Monday, November 16, 2009

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 Jan sheepishly answered that he had fired off a couple rounds of flares and gun shots (that were out of date and needed to be discarded anyway) so that some of the artists could photograph it, and Matt Holzman could get the sound for his NPR piece.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!

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