News from Russia – V
September 19 & 20, 2017
Tuesday was the day we set foot on Henrietta Island, the mythical island that George De Long’s team discovered in 1881 just before the sinking of the Jeannette. We first decided to explore the shore of the island with our two rubber boats. We were up at 5 am with a clear bright sky. Luc went on deck and had the intuition to observe the coast of the island. « An arctic day should never begin without a polar bear » he said extending his binoculars to Evgenia. A polar bear was ‘playing’ in the snow next to one of the houses of the weather stations! Thanks to Luc, we all had the chance to see the first polar bear of our expedition and it wouldn't be the last...
The weather became quite rough when we left the Somov and we had to sail through a snow storm with a strong wind. Thankfully, the divers had put their suits on very early in the morning in the sauna of the Somov and now they were wearing their Arctic jackets and boots to keep their bodies warm until the last moment before touching the water. When we finally approached the coast, the wind was so strong that the divers were wondering if they would be able to maintain their dives. But Luc had another idea. He spotted a little bay that seemed to be sheltered from the wind. As we got closer, we suddenly noticed a huge polar bear watching us from a snowy ledge atop of a hill, staring at us for ten minutes before leaving.
Aurora and Alexey finally went in the sea and discovered a pristinely clear water that reminded them of fresh mountain lakes. They didn't see any fish but rather some strange white worms and a beautiful Arctic starfish with ten branches. Once back on the ship the waves became stronger. The two divers once again ran straight to the sauna to warm their freezing bodies. We then sailed that afternoon from Henrietta to Bennett Island.
While we were sailing, our musical artists were working on the ship and with the ship... Andreas and Zarina recorded noises on the Somov to be able to create some experimental music. Meanwhile, Marie transformed her cabin into an art studio, hanging the inspirational images she had gathered before the trip. She started to work on her project, a cartography of drifting polar dreams; she also discovered during a visit to the bridge that the captain has very few map coverage of this zone of the Arctic. She offered to draw the missing pieces of these maps from her imagination and was generously given a space to do so in the captain's office.
We arrived at Bennett Island at 6pm and spent the night sheltered from a storm on the southern end of the island. Inside the warmth and safety of the Somov, we discussed the cold and brutal nights the crew of the USS Jeannette had to spend on their ship while trapped in the ice for those two long years.
On Wednesday the weather had really deteriorated. Fog, snow, wind, and waves reminded us that we were truly in the north of the Russian Arctic. We had to wait patiently all morning in order to find the right window to make the flight over to the island.
Around noon, the weather finally allowed us to take off. Bennett is a huge island, bigger than Henrietta. We landed by a beautiful beach covered in snow. Close by, we saw the remains of another old polar weather station where two old wood skis had been left behind. Alexey Molchanov found a beautiful Amethyst, another treasure from the De Long Islands. We were all very happy to walk on firm ground, shaking off our sea legs after five days at sea. Back on the boat, we are chasing the good weather to our next stop: Zhokov Island.