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Northeast Passage: Visiting Anadyr

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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 Geoff York

The wind and seas ease as we approach Anadyr. We pick up a local pilot as we enter the long bay that leads to the city. He’s a friendly retired captain who spent 20 years in charge of big ships along Russia’s eastern and northern coasts. Anders takes the wheel so I go down and cook up a hearty brunch of potatoes, eggs, and a mystery ham-like product we picked up in Pevek. It actually turns out to be very good and the pilot happily shares our meal. I wish I could speak Russian so I could truly visit with this interesting man.

Like so many, I squandered early opportunities to learn a second language. Living in such a large country, and having few chances to travel abroad in my youth, I truly did not understand the importance and utility of being multi-lingual. So I studied a little German, a little Spanish, and a little Chinese, but mastered none of these languages. I have very few regrets in my life, but this is definitely one.

In my work with WWF, I routinely interact with colleagues and partners from around the world. It is not uncommon for my European and Russian colleagues to speak three and sometimes four languages with relative ease. I envy the ability to communicate more across cultures. We were so very fortunate on this trip to have Victor Boyarsky to translate, but there is something you miss if you are unable to participate in casual conversations.

There is much I would have liked to ask people as we transited the Russian coast. Questions about their day to day lives and changes they have witnessed over the past decade. While it was a lifetime experience to sit with Vladilen in Ryrkaipiy and Fedor in Vankarem, it would have been even more so to have conversed with them in this setting. Much like politics, language is an artificial barrier separating people from more fully understanding one another.

Back on the boat, everyone is awake and 5 of the crew are madly packing their bags after spending over a month at sea. Ola, Hannibal, Per-Magnus, Fredrik, and Victor will spend one last night aboard the Explorer before checking into the Hotel Chukotka in Anadyr for the weekend. We have made arrangement to clear customs early tomorrow morning and they will have to have themselves and all of their gear off the boat when the agents arrive.

Anadyr sits back in a protected bay and is a very interesting town. As we motor into the dock, I am surprised and happy to see a new development going in across from the city – wind power! A half dozen brand new turbines dot the hillside, one still under construction. Approaching the dock you see clean, brightly colored buildings, several quite modern in design, and a stunning all-wood Russian Orthodox church with gilded domes. Even the cranes on the dock are getting fresh paint and the town seems busy with activity and new construction.

This is the home of Roman Aboramovich, the well-known owner of Chelsea FC, the English Premier League football team. Along with supporting renovations in some of the Chukchi communities, Mr Aboramovich has invested heavily in Anadyr, and it shows. The streets are paved and the grocery store is as modern and well stocked as you would see in any large city, though the population here only approaches 13,000. There is a sense of optimism and pride in this place.

Following a quick look around town, we buy a few fresh ingredients and have our farewell dinner on the boat. Bags are stacked everywhere as we share thanks and stories from the trip thus far. The morning will come much too early!

« Northeast Passage: So, what of the polar bear? | Northeast Passage: South to Alaska »

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