The emergency helicopter flew around us twice, checking our position and our safety, and almost as soon as it arrived set off back to Longyearbyen. Apparently the nearest vessel to us at this moment is 20 hours away. The helicopter will take one and a half hours back to base. We are alone again.
In our cabins we shed our hastily piled layers, estimated at between five to eight per person, re-pack our shelves and then assemble for dinner. Hard to believe that this was the very same dinner that was being packed in to helicopter sized boxes only an hour ago. What might have been our last supper became the first of our new life and the unspoken text of being alive and happy was spoken in wine. I was at a table near Ted, our captain, and we all raised a glass to him. We should have washed him in champagne.
To bed at 3.00 a.m. and by 7.00 a.m. my bunk is yet again alive to the sound of the cutting and splicing of ice. I never thought I would get to know and recognise this strange Arctic ice song. At eleven, after seven hours of sailing, we hit more impassable sea ice and are forced to turn tail and sail back to exactly the point we left seven hours before. So, for now, we are trapped. Today will be a quiet day.
I’m reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s wonderful anthology of Arctic writings. Rockwell Kent’s diary of 1935 chronicles the year he spent living and painting in Greenland. It seems pertinent to our time here with Cape Farewell:
“ ‘Discoveries’ – are we discoverers then, we writers, poets, sculptors, picture-painters? It is all anyone at most can be. Leif Ericsson, Magellan, Cook, the architect of the first pyramid, the builder of the first arch, Homer, Shakespeare, Euclid, Newton, Einstein: all are discoverers, revealers, of what was and is, of continents, of natural law, of the human soul. God, let us say, made Adam. It was for Michelangelo to discover, as though for the first time, how beautiful God’s Adam was. And it remains for all of us, forever, to discover as though for the first time how beautiful the sunrise is, and the moon, and night, and plain and mountain, land and sea, and man and woman; how beautiful life is. And whether we pursue discovery in the environment at home which is familiar to us all, or abroad in the remoter and less-known regions of the earth, we’ll find the field still unexplored and rich in undiscovered beauty.”
This afternoon we visit the shore of the little bay in which our boat is safely moored. With our now familiar armed polar bear guide keeping careful watch, we have a good chance to research our new world. This world is in monochrome; white snow on the black and grey of shattered shingle and beyond a grey sea against snow-incrusted black mountain walls. There is no sound save that of five Kittiwakes – white and black in their slate grey sky.BACK TO TOP