Saturday, December 19, 2009

Reliving the arctic!

Blizzard in New York!

We're all waiting for Janet to finish the details of the Svalbard trip. She's been busy reviewing and editing the many, many hours of footage from the trip. She describes herself as a "mono-tasker" - once she's ready to take some time off from looking at the amazing footage of the Arctic, she'll continue this blog.

In the meantime ... here's shots of Janet putting on her arctic gear and playing on our Manhattan roof during the great blizzard of December 2009.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Day 15


October 20th

After two hours of sleep, I woke at 6am and frantically packed my gear. Not only did I have to pack my cameras, hard drives, computer, etc., but also the kayaks and all their gear (drysuits, neoprene skirts, poggie hand grips, life jackets, paddles, etc.). It's a good thing I hadn't brought many clothes. Even going to the Arctic, I had to prioritize what to bring since we had a weight limit. Cameras and kayaks took top priority.

Cinnamon BunsI raced around for a couple of hours, stopping once to gulp down our last breakfast cooked by Anna. I had to get drysuits back from both Audun and Amy Witta (a social scientist who was studying our responses to the environment).

The drysuits were mandatory for kayaking - they were hard to get on, but they kept the ice-cold water off your skin. Without them, a flip of the kayak (a very common occurance) would lead to hypothermia and probable death in under five minutes.

Amy had borrowed my drysuit a couple of times during the trip so that she could take a swim!! The first time she climbed down the ships ladder and swam out to an iceberg a few feet away. From that point on, if the weather permitted, we could usually find Amy floating around off shore or somewhere near the ship with a big smile on her face!

KayaksOnce everything was packed the lugging began. Jan helped me get the kayaks to land. I had made arrangements with a produce delivery truck driver to transport the kayaks the mile and a half (3km) back to the Svalbard Sailing Club.

I was lucky to find someone with a truck, without this lift, I would have had to carry the heavy kayaks by hand. The night before, I spotted the driver bringing pallets of food on board for the Noorderlicht's next trip to Tromso. I bolted up on deck and asked how big their truck was. Kindly, he didn't think I was a crazy woman, and agreed to come back the next day and move the kayaks for me.

Svalbard Sailing Club

We all had most of our luggage on the dock when we realized that Raphaele wasn't with us! We raced back in and woke her from a sound sleep. I've never seen such speed packing! Just as she got her last bag off the ship our bus arrived to take us and our luggage to the Polarrigen.

Longyearbyen Road

This was the first moment all morning that any of us had had a moment to breath and face the fact that we were leaving our beloved Noorderlicht and her crew. With tight throats, and eyes brimming with tears we said our goodbyes. The crew stood on the dock in front of the Noorderlicht and waved goodbye. No one spoke on the bus. I avoided all eye contact, afraid that a glance from anyone would start the tears again.


Once back at the Polarriggen we unloaded our luggage and went to our rooms. We were all so sad that our adventure at sea was over. Eventually hunger drew some of us out of our rooms. We decided to walk to a "downtown" Longyearbyen cafe for a late lunch. As we were climbing over a hill Ian said, "Look!" The Noorderlicht, with her sails raised was leaving the fjord. It was the most beautiful and saddest sight I think I've ever seen.

During our voyage, whenever Jan was on shore he would call out to the Noorderlicht on his walkie-talkie in a special way - he would sing her name three times. I will always hear that song in my head and my heart.

Here are some shots of my beautiful Noorderlicht.




Monday, November 16, 2009

Last Night Aboard Ship

October 19th - pm

The deck was completely iced over and the sleet was still falling. The crew and any artist with prior sailing experience worked together to raise sail.

Not an easy feat under these conditions. At one point the bowsprits sail became tangled. The Captain left the wheel and made it to the bow in about six strides. He slipped only once, righting himself with ease. (everyone else had gone down repeatedly).

He climbed out on the bowsprits and wrestled the sail into submission, and returned to the wheel with a smile on his face.

For the next couple of hours we lived at a forty five degree angle or better. Lunch was a challenge. Food, dishes, glasses, and people were all sliding downhill. Moving about the living quarters took a lot of planning.

To get from the lower saloon onto deck I started by hanging onto the table ... running downhill to the wall next to the galley, pushing off and grabbing onto the railing at the bottom of the stairs, dragging myself up the stairs at a forty five degree angle, pausing at the top to get my breath and plan the rest of my path, use Osman as a ricochet point to come back around and brace off the mast that ran down through the upper saloon, push off the mast to hang onto Matt who was trying to get back downstairs, run towards the door to deck, glance off the bar and finally make it to the three stairs that led onto deck. This was all done with good footing. The deck was covered in ice.

Once outside, the howling of the wind was matched by the howling of our group! We were all out in force and loving it! We had to hang on to each other and to the ship to keep ourselves from being blown overboard. I had grabbed the Sanyo underwater camera as I was heading out on deck and it was a good thing!

The waves were flying over the ships railing, hitting us full force. I was hanging on to the uphill side of the boat with one arm and filming with the other. I looked down at Osman who was on the downhill side of the ship. It was like he was standing on a floor below me! It was exhilarating!!!!

Even Willie, who had experienced real fear on some early "nights of terror", was hanging over the rail, camera in hand and a huge smile on her face. It's amazing how much we've all changed in a couple weeks at sea.

We arrived back at the Longyearbyen dock in the early evening. We will spend one last night on board and then it's back to the Polarriggen tomorrow. Most of us are in complete denial that this is the end of our voyage.

We invited the crew to be our guests at dinner. We chose the Polarriggen since it was close to the dock and large enough to handle our group. We walked to dinner feeling the ground undulate under our feet. It was tough to walk on solid ground after so many days at sea. Dinner was festive, but tinged with the knowledge that tomorrow the Noorderlicht and her crew would head to Tromso without us.

Chef Anna

We slowly straggled back to the ship after dinner. As more and more people showed up the night felt more and more like a party. It finally kicked into gear when chef Anna showed up. She had kept to herself and kept us in fear throughout the trip. Tonight she was ready to party with us. Soon the Captain, Jan, and Sebastian arrived and the Captain started pouring drinks. It was getting late (actually early, as in 3am early) and most partiers had wandered off to bed. We had to be packed and off the ship at 9am. Katja, Ian, Raphaele, and I were reluctant to let the night with the crew end. We hung on as long as we could and then finally made our way down to our cabins.
Later that morning ....

While I had been filming onboard a group of artists and scientists had joined Jan in the Zodiac and traveled to shore. They had hiked up a big hill and disappeared from sight into the sleet and fog. Sebastian was willing to take Katja, me, and Ian Burns to shore with Audun as our armed escort. The Zodiac slammed across the waves and we squinted against the sleet.

I had thought that days like this would be the norm for our trip. We had been pretty lucky with the weather ... up to this point. Once on shore I set up to film Katja's performance. Half way through, I saw a flare flash in the fog behind Katja. I turned to Audun and said, "I think I just saw a flare gun flash!". As the words were leaving my mouth we heard a gun shot ... and then another!!

We had left the Noorderlicht without a walkie-talkie so there was no way to reach the ship. We yelled from shore and swung our arms in the air, but no one saw us. We gathered the life preservers that the group had left on shore and started down the beach towards the gun shot sounds. It was standard practice to take off our life preservers once we reached shore.

With thoughts of polar bears we rushed along, occasionally stopping to try to get the attention of someone on board the Noorderlicht. My heart was racing and the color had drained out of all our faces. None of us was sure what one more gun, four more people, and a dozen life preservers would do to help if the group was in serous trouble. Even so, we continued to rush towards the gun shot sounds.

Suddenly, we saw the outline of a person heading towards us out of the fog and sleet ... then another. Still short of breath from fear, we realized that they were walking calmly! Eventually, the entire group could be seen walking casually towards us. We called out to them saying we heard gun shots. Jan sheepishly answered that he had fired off a couple rounds of flares and gun shots (that were out of date and needed to be discarded anyway) so that some of the artists could photograph it, and Matt Holzman could get the sound for his NPR piece. Jan had thought his group was too far away for anyone to hear or see what they were doing.

I considered requesting CPR, but instead we requested they call the Zodiac for a pick-up. The ride back to the ship was wild, with everyone holding on for their lives.

We use a rope ladder to get from the Zodiac back onto the deck of the Noorderlicht. We tried to hang onto the ladder, but would loose our grip as the boat rocked and bucked.

It was a crazy scene! With Jan, Sebastian, Audun, the Captain, and everybody else on board helping, we finally got everyone out of the Zodiac and safely on the ship. The Zodiac is usually hoisted aboard at the stern of the ship. The sea was so rough this day that the crew wanted to get the Zodiac aboard as soon as possible, so they decided to just haul it up from the side. The entire crew tried to muscle it up by ropes, but the weight of the motor made it impossible.

With Herculean strength, the Captain reached over the side of the ship and grabbed the motor in one hand. He lifted the motor up onto the ship and then grabbed the ropes and brought the Zodiac right up after it. We had all suspected that the Captain was superhuman ... this confirmed it!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Ship's Log: Day 14 - Morning

October 19th - A.M.

We woke up to the ship rocking and rolling, while at anchor! The wind was howling outside. The Captain had heard that the wind was going to pick up and it was living up to the prediction.

I had been thinking about the shots I needed for my project. This was the last day I would be able to film Audun kayaking. As much as I personally wanted to get out one last time in the kayak, the shots I needed had to be taken from the ship or the Zodiac. I had to make a choice between indulging my desire to kayak one last time or to stay focused on my project.

I was also struggling with a kind of apathy. The thought of my Arctic experience coming to an end was sapping my energy. I didn't even feel like filming. I've felt this way before when I've spent extended time on location so I knew I needed to push past my apathy and get out there and shoot. I also knew that I was in the Arctic to make art, not enjoy paddling in the wild. When I told Katja how I was feeling, she understood, but pushed me to get out there and film (she's been an amazing help and a true friend). I found Audun and asked him to go out in the single. He also seemed a bit sad that we wouldn't enjoy one last time out on the water together.

I went up on deck and realized that none of us should be kayaking! The sea was rough with whitecaps and the wind too strong to go out safely. I went back below deck to let Audun know. He insisted that he would be okay, and that we should just go for it. He has gone from being a somewhat reluctant participant to a real collaborator in the project. He has a great sense of adventure and truly loves this region -- suggesting locations that we could explore for shots -- and now seems to really enjoy being in front of the camera. He is also taking a lot of kidding about his future Hollywood career and his need for an agent.

With Audun, Jan, and the Captain all saying that it should be no problem to go out in a kayak in these conditions, we decided to go for it. I wanted overhead shots and planned to start filming from the ship and then move out onto the water in the Zodiac. Fighting the pelting sleet and rough sea Audun got into the kayak. We planned for him to circle around the ship so I could film from above. This close to the Noorderlicht, Jan didn't need to follow him in the Zodiac.

I set up my tripod at the stern and waited for Audun to come around the back of the ship. It seemed to take him forever so I went to the side to look for him. He was paddling hard and hardly moving. The sea and wind was very strong, and pushing against him! He made it to the back of the ship and I started filming. It looked as if the ship was underway and Audun was struggling to catch up to it, but we were still at anchor!

The wind was blowing my tripod over as I struggled to stay upright. I took my big Sony camera off its tripod thinking it would be easier to film that way, only to have the camera come apart in my hands. I was holding two separate pieces!! The camera has a button to release the lens on the bottom of the camera. In my struggle to hold onto the camera and not fall over I must have hit the button (I still have no idea how this could happen). With the inner workings of the camera exposed to the sleet and high winds, I frantically tried to screw it back together. The whole thing jammed and was unusable.

I bolted for my cabin and grabbed my Canon so I could keep shooting. If Audun was going to risk his life for this piece there was no way I was going to stop shooting now. I got some amazing footage of him battling the wind and waves.

The Captain called Audun back in. The Zodiac, which was tied to the side of the ship, was banging so hard against the ship that the motor was at risk. Audun paddled for all he was worth and finally reached the Zodiac.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Ship's Tour

Today I thought I'd take you on a tour of the ship's living quarters.

My first impression was that there was no way we would all fit. The Noorderlicht turned out to be a comfortable home for the time we spent aboard.

The cabins were downstairs. All cabins slept two people. There were five cabins towards the bow of the ship and five starting midship and heading towards the stern. Most cabins had a great view of the cabin across the way.

The crew had a chart room and private quarters in the stern as well as quarters in the bow that were reached by a bulkhead on deck. There were two toilet/shower rooms towards the bow on the starboard side and two toilet/shower rooms towards the bow. One on the port side and one on the starboard.

The galley and lower saloon was in between the bow and stern cabins.

There were two tables in the lower saloon. One sat eight and the other six. The smaller table was where the crew sat for meals.

The bench seating against the walls was also storage for food. Occasionally I'd be happily downloading footage when Anna would stand over me with "the look." I immediately lept up so she could get into the storage under my seat ... the last thing anyone wanted was to get on Anna's bad side.

During the day that table did double duty as Anna's bread board. She would kneed and roll out the bread, pizza dough, and pastries that she cooked daily.

A set of steep stairs led to the upper saloon.

On rough seas, these stairs were responsible for broken dishes, glasses, and many bruises. The upper saloon had two tables, one that could seat eight and one that seated six. Across from the two tables was a bench that ran the length of the wall. There was a bar in the corner with a map of our journey on the wall.

Every morning as we were eating breakfast, Jan would go from table to table saying, "The plan..." "The plan" was the discription of where we were going and what we could expect once we got there. He would then go to the map behind the bar and draw on our progress from the day before.

Here's the map behind the bar.

Here's a more detailed map of our journey. Red lines are going north, blue lines are the return trip.

1. Longyearbyen
2. Skansbukta
3. Fourteenthofjuly Bay
4. Sallyhamna
5. Moffen Island
6. Woodfjorden
7. Hornbaekpolten
8. Worsleyhamna
9. Magdalenafjord
10. Ny-London / Konigsfjorden / Ny-Alseund
11. Kongsvegan / Kongsfjorden
12. Poolepynten
13. Barentsburg
14. Longyearbyen

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ship's Log: Day 13

October 18th.
Arctic Cirlce Project Team in Siberia
The next morning was tough after the previous evening's festivities. I slept through breakfast, assuming everybody else would too, only to be woken by Katja saying Jan was taking us on a tour of town in 5 minutes.