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Northeast passage: Land ho!

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This summer, WWF is helping support two expeditions that will take on some of the world’s most difficult waters, to see first-hand the effects of Arctic climate change. One expedition is sailing across the top of Russia, a journey of 6000 nautical miles through the Northeast Passage, while another is attempting a west to east transit of the Northwest Passage, also by sailing boat, a journey of about 7,000 nautical miles.

Tom Arnbom of Sweden was on the ‘Explorer of Sweden’ though the Northeast Passage, as was WWF Arctic Programme Director Neil Hamilton for much of the trip, replaced near the end by WWF polar bear coordinator Geoff York. On the ‘Silent Sound’ Cameron Dueck of the Open Passage Expedition is filing regular stories from the Northwest passage. Come back for photos and stories throughout the summer, and follow the progress of the boats as they follow in the wake of some of history’s most intrepid explorers.

By Neil Hamilton

After 3 days travelling across the south eastern Barents Sea in completely calm and windless conditions we have finally arrived at land, the island of Veygatch.  Its about 200km long and is situated between the huge mass of Novaya Zemlya to the north, and Russia to the south.  The passage between the 2 islands is known as the Kara Gate, as this is the main entrance to the Kara Sea.

The weather has turned to light rain after fine but foggy conditions, and the water temperature has increased to 10 degrees, a reflection of the increasing contribution of warm water flowing into the sea from the huge Russian rivers.  The region we have been travelling across for the last day or so is completely covered in ice in winter but there is not a sign of it now. It’s hard to imagine what it looks like then!

We have been seeing more birds than when we were further out to sea, but not a marked increase.  A few more guillemots, a few ducks, the occasional glaucous gull, a lone arctic skua.  And of course the ever present fulmars.  No more whales or dolphins since day 1.

The crew has settled into a routine of rotating watches, and I find time from midnight to 4am to catch up with ‘office work’, while the boat is quiet and the wheelhouse empty except for Anders and me.  We have been discussing how to deal with the changing time zones and meal and watch times, and it appears that, in good Russian tradition, we’ll stick to Moscow Time on the boat.

Tomorrow will bring our first landing, and hopefully interaction with a small tradtional, and very remote, reindeer herding community.
More soon!

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