Co-ordinates: N 68º47'58", E 35º12'19"
Weather: Clear skies with high clouds and good visibility
Air Temperature: 10ºC
Pressure: 1006 hPa
Wind: 15 knots
Today we continue our first voyage in Silver Explorer history towards the previously unknown and rarely visited waters of Northern Russia off the Kola Peninsula. Not too long ago this would have been completely unthinkable but now we have the privilege to blaze this trail.
This morning came a bit earlier than usual as we advanced our clocks by one hour over last night.
Just after breakfast I wandered up to The Theatre to listen to Kara Weller, one of our expert onboard biologists, provide a wonderful and comprehensive overview comparing the Northern and Southern Polar Regions. Kara has well more than 100 voyages in these areas and is one of the most knowledgeable people that I have ever known regarding the biological adaptations that one can observe is both areas.
Soon thereafter, Richard Sidey our professional photographer and filmmaker, discussed Photographic tips, tricks and compositional procedures that one can utilize to get the most out of your ‘holiday shots’. Like Kara, I have known and worked with Richard for many years in areas around the world. The simple summary is that Richard is a genius in his profession and I always learn something new every time I attend one of his lectures.
In the afternoon I missed Robin Aiello’s Team Trivia contest in the Panorama Lounge. Now this is ‘Expedition Team Trivia’ which is not just for fun but is also designed to provide additional information in each of our individual areas of specialty. In this case Robin covered a variety of marine mammal sounds and behaviors.
I also missed Rich Pagen’s review of Arctic seabirds that we are now seeing on the voyage. This presentation was also a great follow-up to our recent Zodiac cruise in Norway’s Storstoppen Islands, which had a wonderful variety and massive quantity of Puffins, Kittiwakes, Gannetts, Sea Eagles, Razorbills and so many more species.
Now I missed those events not because of taking a break but rather I was on Bridge duty with Uli, one of our underwater experts. We were working together to spot possible whales or other wildlife. In this respect we were temporarily unsuccessful. However, we did ‘catch’ something just a bit bigger, quite interesting but not biological.
Uli spotted something out in the distance and there was some initial discussion about what type of strange ship it might be. I pulled up my binoculars and said that it looks like a Russian Akula nuclear submarine. In fact that is exactly what it turned out to be, one of Russia’s new, top-of-the-line submarines operating just north of Murmansk. We had pretty good views of this very unusual sight when there was another object on the starboard horizon. I swung my attention over, noticed the unique and distinctive bow through the misty horizon and identified this vessel as the Kuznetsov. This large aircraft-carrying cruiser would be called an aircraft carrier by most and it is the largest vessel in the Russian fleet.
Over the next 45 minutes or so the submarine slowly moved away but the Kuznetsov eventually passed just ahead of the Silver Explorer. I suspect that each ship was taking a careful look at the other with neither expecting the encounter! It was quite a spectacular afternoon for a retired U.S. Navy Captain like myself who had previously spent 30 years closely studying the Russian Navy!
After answering many questions from our guests, I quickly raced down to add 3 more slides to my Recap & Briefing to review the characteristics of these Russian vessels. Then I went on to spend my allocated time discussing the cultural history of the Sami people. These are the indigenous population of Northern Norway who have been squeezed by the onset of modern society as it adversely impacted their previously nomadic lifestyle. The Sami have only slowly gained a measure of political power but it came after many centuries of discrimination.
Of course the day was not yet complete as I returned to my stateroom to work for just a few more hours. Most of the time was spent completing final review and polish on my presentation for tomorrow titled “Nansen: Polar Explorer and Renaissance Man for all Seasons”. It’s great fun about an amazing individual who was a world record holder in skating as well as ski champion, ambassador and Nobel Peace Prize winner. I’m looking forward to sharing his life with our guests tomorrow.