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Northeast Passage: Leaving Murmansk

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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

Casting off from Kirkenes on the Explorer of SwedenCasting off from Kirkenes on the Explorer of Sweden

Finally, after days of waiting, filling in forms, shopping for everything we could think of, and being the beneficiaries of seemingly endless Russian hospitality, we are away!  A final press conference aboard the old ice breaker ‘Lenin’ revealed the challenge we face in turning around climate change, with several of the captains of the Russian ice breaker fleet expressing opinions that the earth is in fact cooling.  Nobody mentioned that we have lost almost half the area of summer sea ice since the 1980s, or that this voyage is only remotely possible due to the changes now conclusively the result of human action.

We left the dock just after 2030 on the 5th August, and sailed towards the Barents Sea some 40km north of Murmansk.  There is a huge air of anticipation now, a sense that the adventure has really only just begun.  As we passed the ice breaker 50th Anniversary of the Revolution she let out a huge long blast on her fog horn in our honour, which we returned with a (much smaller!) one on ours.

The icebreaker known as 'The 50th Anniversary of the Revolution' docked near MurmanskThe icebreaker known as 'The 50th Anniversary of the Revolution' docked near Murmansk

In my previous blog I introduced you to some, but not all of the crew of ‘Explorer’.  The last three, Per Magnus, Hannibal, and Frederik deserve a minute of fame as well!

Per Magnus is one of the pioneers of arctic expedition cruise tourism, being the owner of Polar Quest (owner of the expeditions sponsors) and a highly experienced traveller in northern regions.  He is currently chairman of AECO, the association of expedition cruise operators.

Hannibal has played a leading role in may of Ola’s expeditions, from the crossing of Greenland to the South Pole.  Highly experienced in mountain and wilderness education, Hannibal spends in excess of 200 days a year ‘on snow’.  He is an extremely competant sailor, diver, and probably many other things I have yet to discover.

Frederik is the expedition photographer and film maker.  He has travelled with Ola on many occasions and has also undertaken numerous trips of his own.  The pictures and clips on Ola’s website are largely from Frederik.  He is also a Land Rover freak and knows almost everything about anything mechanical.

So that’s it: eight guys (average age about 40), a huge range of skills and experience in the Arctic, sailing across an ocean that is changing almost as we look at it.  From now on we head ‘back to nature’ into some of the most unknown parts of the Arctic.  More soon!

« Northeast Passage video blog: Kirkenes to Murmansk | Northeast Passage: On the watch »

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