News from Russia - IV

September 17 & 18, 2017

Sunday and Monday we sailed From Sannikova to Henrietta Island. The weather has been as the Arctic is notorious for: unpredictable. In the morning, a thin layer of fresh snow covered the red deck of the Somov and then, suddenly, the sun would pierce through the cloudy skies. The team`s spirit on board over the past 3 days of sailing has stayed jovial, although we are all looking forward to planting our feet on land, or in the case of our professional divers, taking a plunge into the frigid waters. As the temperatures continue to drop, we are constantly reminded of the stories of past Arctic explorers, particularly that of Captain De Long whose course we are emulating. For those of us who haven`t finished« Kingdom of Ice » the reading of the book here is more than appropriate. Aurora, for instance, was moved while reading the letters sent by Emma De Long to her husband. The letters are short but intensely full of love, refraining from complaining about her solitude. Captain De Long never received them as he was imprisoned on the ice with the USS Jeanette for two years (1879-81), not far from where we are now, never making it home to Emma.

Sunday evening the team prepared the first dive for Alexey and Aurora. The two red rubber dinghys of the Somov will finally touch the water.
Monday, we scheduled the first dive in the East Siberian Sea. The purpose was to do a test dive in a zone where one could find remains of the Jeannette, De Long’s ship.
At 8 am, the dinghys were hoisted down and Aurora and Alexey boarded them thanks to the metallic stairs attached to the side of the Somov. The weather was surprisingly welcoming with an even sea and a lack of wind. After a short trip, Aurora and Alexey decided to put the buoy in the water in order to dive safely.
The divers remarked that it was strange to dive in this remote Russian Arctic where nobody has dived before. The unknown in this Arctic Abyss attracted them despite the cold that dug into their bones. 

An unusual combination of resources: Russia, France, Monaco and the US... Diving in the East Siberian Sea, in the wave of George De Long...

An unusual combination of resources: Russia, France, Monaco and the US... Diving in the East Siberian Sea, in the wave of George De Long...

The water was surprisingly clear, yet dark and green in color. The water was filled with beautiful creatures that resembled spaceships floating in the ether. The diving computer showed awater temperature of – 2ºC (= ~28ºF) as sea water in these climes can typically below fresh water freezing temperature.

The divers knew that they had to make the dive session short, as the cold was becoming more and more unbearable. They commented on the beauty of diving with the horizon on one side and the gigantic stature of the Somov on the other. Back on board, Kesha (one of the deputies of the Yakutian Ministry of Natural Resources) remarked that a curious walrus had come to say hello to one of the boats while the divers were in the water. It popped up three times before disappearing back into the water. Our divers were happy to hear this because, as freedivers, they are quite fond of marine mammals, particularly pinipedes. On the return, we are all hopeful to make a stop at Vilkitsky island: another of De Long`s little islands that is known as a breeding ground for walruses. 

After lunch, many decided to take a nap (it was an early wake-up). While asleep, little floats of ice appeared. First, they looked like the small figures of far-away boats. Then as we got closer to Henrietta Island, pieces of old pack-ice began to surround the Somov as if we were breaking through a large puzzle. The parts of the sea that were open, mirrored the evening sky as the sun began to set behind our large ship and reflected the colors majestically. If William Turner had been here, he surely would have seized the opportunity. Needless to say, our professional photographers Evgenia Arbugaeva and Adrien de Bontin bounded about the ship documenting the beauty that enveloped us.

The island sat menacingly in front of us as we laid anchor, covered in snow, surely laden with polar bears, a thick white cloud stuck on it like a hat and hard, black cragged cliffs that dared us to approach. Nevertheless, at day`s end Luc and some of the team went on a short flight with our trusted MI-8 helicopter over to Henrietta to visit the remains of an abandoned polar weather station. This particularly delighted our NatGeo photographer, Evgenia, who was fascinated by the ability to document this lonely, isolated outpost that hasn’t had any habitants since the 1930`s. Back on the boat, we finished the night with a special screening of a documentary of the region by our own Maxime Arbugaev. Safe to say everyone slept soundly after one of our more eventful days of the adventure.

Bertrand Delapierre, our fearless cameraman and director, works quasi non-stop to document our adventures. Of course we cannot reveal everything which is happening to us, but count on him to come up with a great film in early 2018 to testify about this eco-scientific adventure!