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North Pole: The Expedition, Arctic Ocean, Barents Sea, Cape Tegetthoff, Champ Island, Franz Josef Land, Ninety Degrees North
Ninety Degrees North: Finally there
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
From N90 there’s nowhere to go, but down south! Would like to quote Wally Herbert (on reaching the North Pole in 1969), “Trying to set foot upon it is like trying to step on the shadow of a bird that was circling overhead. The surface across which we were moving was itself moving on a planet that was spinning around an axis.”
Day 4 had dawned and we were northbound on the Arctic Ocean. This morning’s briefing was mandatory to all those who wished to indulge in Hot Air Ballooning on the North Pole. It was an optional trip that would cost $295. The height it would attain would be about 100 feet. I opted out as I felt the view from the helicopter to do the trick. Of course, there were many who opted in.
At 6 in the evening we all had to assemble on the bow to seek Neptune’s permission to go to the North Pole! You see, Neptune is the Lord of the Ocean and without his blessings there’s no way one could be safe out there! So we had some of the ship’s staff members do this maritime tradition.
Neptune the Lord, his wife and their assistants came up on the bow, fully dressed. When seated, the leader of the seamen asked for his permission for the passing. Well, it was granted but not before the Lord was offered a gift… a bottle of Vodka! The spirit from the bottle was then pushed down the throat, by a syringe, of all the willing guests on the bow. It was then time to dance to some music and making merry.
The log at 12 noon on day 4:
Location: 83º 44’ N, 52º 52’ E
Wind speed: 8 knots
Temperature: - 1.4 degrees C
Distance to North Pole: 376 NM
We continued northward on day 5. Today we had important briefing from our expedition leader for our landing and activities at the North Pole.
The log at 12 noon on day 5:
Location: 87º 07’ N, 65º 45’ E
Wind speed: 8 knots
Temperature: - 1.8 degrees C
Distance to North Pole: 173 NM
Tomorrow, hopefully, we would be at our desired destination! A contest was thrown open – to predict the time when the ship would be at location N90. The one predicting the exact or nearest to actual would get a fine bottle of champagne.
Going by the ship’s average speed I predicted 0215 hours. Well, it’s a journey to the North Pole… averages don’t work. We attained N90 at 0430 hours!
When we were 5 nautical miles away, the first announcement was made at about 3:30 in the morning. We were told to dress up and come on the bow. Thereafter, every 1 NM announcements happened. On reaching N90, the ship honked. And honked. And honked. The GPS read as 90º 00’ N.
It was champagne time. So what if it was 4:30 AM. By the way, it never gets dark at the North Pole. For 6 months of the year, the sun never goes below the horizon. In July it’s way above. Only your watch decides if it’s a day or night. And only your mind decides to sleep or not.
A special metal capsule was made in which all guests were invited to put in their thoughts. The sealed capsule was then thrown in the waters at North Pole. Maybe, somebody in the future may just find it.
The ship had to find an appropriate location to anchor. The captain found one about 6 nautical miles away. We would be celebrating out here. After breakfast, we were ready to land. Frozen sea would be our home for the next 8 hours.
The first people to get out on any landing are The Guards, At 90 Degrees North, North Pole with their guns… to protect us from the polar bears. Even North Pole was not an exception. History shows that few polar bears were spotted out there! The Guards, At 90 Degrees North, North Pole mark the area by red flags… no guests are allowed to go beyond these red markers.
It’s customary on this expedition to have a North Pole Circle ceremony. All guests assemble around a ring and pictures are taken. It’s free time thereafter.
It was good of Quark to organize a satellite phone for a 2-minute complimentary call home. It surely delighted folks back home to hear the voice of their loved ones from the top of the world! Mock telephone booth was set up which added to the drama.
Amongst the ‘been there done that ritual’ are, one, a picture by the N90 sign and, two, a picture pulling the ship. Other ‘optional’ rituals include a plunge in the polar pool. The ship creates a little pool by pushing over the ice. Guests are invited to dive in the waters that are at -2 degrees C. There were many takers. A shot of Vodka after the plunge is more than welcome. 3 people from my group did the plunge. Brave men.
There’s also an option to walk on the ice. It’s a one-hour round trip with a tour leader and a guard.
At 12 it was a BBQ lunch on ice. Thankfully, out there coolers are not required to chill the beer. The frozen sea does the trick. It was hard to believe that we had water beneath us that was 4261 meters deep!
By 3 PM we were all on board. At 5:30 there was the North Pole Toast followed by a Grand Auction of paintings and artefacts in support of the conservation of the polar bears.
The log at 12 noon on day 6:
Location: 89º 54’ N, 35º 45’ E
Wind speed: 6 knots
Temperature: - 1.6 degrees C
Distance from North Pole: 6 NM
Our southward journey now begins.
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