Day 17 |
Jul 13, 2010

Murmansk, Russian Federation 

By Peter W. Damisch, Historian, General Naturalist, Polar Bear Guard, Zodiac Driver and Cartographer

Co-ordinates: N 68º59'14", E 33º02'06"
Weather: Early fog then clearing to bright sunshine and back to overcast
Air Temperature: 9ºC
Pressure: 1005 hPa
Wind: 5 knots

Today was our day to complete our stupendous journey to the Russian High Arctic. The past 10+ days have simple been amazing. We have landed in Novaya Zemlya where no other non-Russian and non-scientific ship had been. In Franz Josef Land we have visited the most northerly point of land in all of Europe or Asia. The Silver Explorer has traveled farther north than at any prior time in the ship’s history.

Today we needed to finish the process of formally checking out of Russia, complete the paperwork and disembark our new friends; representatives of the new Russian Arctic National Park as well as our Bear Guards from Russia.

All of these formalities are being taken care of today while we are in Murmansk. My day started very early this morning, as I was up to perform some double checks on the presentation that I was giving later in the day. However, it wasn’t too soon before I found myself out on deck as we proceeded up the long tidal estuary towards Murmansk.

It is fascinating how things change. Had we attempted this passage just 20 years ago, all of us would have been arrested, as Murmansk was a port closed to all visitation. Back then it was the center of the Russian Northern Fleet and protected by many layers of defense, including mine fields. Fortunately all that has changed with the port now bustling with a great deal of commercial shipping of all kinds.

We also had the opportunity to observe Russia’s fleet of nuclear icebreakers all docked alongside a special pier area. Of course some of the Russian Northern Fleet is still based at this remote location as we saw the largest vessel in the Russian Navy, a large aircraft carrying cruiser along with an entire fleet of nuclear icebreakers. It was all quite impressive with port facilities extending for many kilometers along each side of the estuary.

All too soon it was time for me to move up to The Theatre to set up for my presentation titled ‘Jeanette Expedition: Siberian Challenge’. This exploration occurred in the 1880s in the Arctic waters just northeast of us. The story is known to many Russian school children as a significant event in their history, but has been almost completely forgotten in the in the countries where the people and ship originated. In effect, it is the perfect kind of tale that I like to tell but in this case I utilized, almost exclusively, old woodcuts of the type that would have been printed in newspapers of the time. We had a great time with a number of questions from the guests who expressed amazement that the ship could have been stuck in ice so far to the south but at the same time of year as our current voyage!!

After a nice lunch with two lovely ladies from Brisbane, I wandered back up to The Theatre to listen to Juan, our geologist, give a presentation titled ‘Geology Rocks’. I truly enjoy geology and Juan’s lecture provided a wonderful overview of many geological topics starting from the formation of the Earth. I always learn something new when I attend any presentation on board the Silver Explorer.

Next it was time to say goodbye to the Russian officials and bear guards as our ship recovered its anchor and proceeded out to sea. As before, I remained on deck to discuss the wide variety of ship types, both old and new, that can be found in this important shipping port.

Looking down at my watch I discovered it was time to go visit the Panorama Lounge where our Assistant Expedition Leader, Jarda, was hosting Expedition Team Trivia. Each of us on the team has hosted such an event during this particular voyage. It is both a chance to learn something along with a bit of fun with 20 questions that come from both our recent journey as well as other topics that are just little more off-the-wall.

In a strange twist of fate, I discovered that Kara and I had, unbeknownst to each other, switched roles. She spoke about the Russian nuclear icebreakers that we had seen earlier in the day and their associated engineering. On the other hand I spoke about biology and polar bear mating behavior. Of course as we are all General Naturalists for many years as well as specialists in our own fields, it is good to ‘shuffle the cards’ and address a subject normally covered by someone else.

As I write this I’ve just come down from attending the Captain’s farewell reception. This event is always a bit sad for me as I begin to say goodbye to dear friends developed during this amazing voyage. However, we also have the opportunity to remember many of the unique destinations seen over the past 17 days or so.

Tomorrow we’re off to visit the northern tip of Norway. I’m looking forward to a hiking opportunity that we’ll have along the way, as well as visiting representatives of the local Sami population and the most northerly fishing settlement in Europe.