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Daily Journals

September 1, 2006

The mooring recovery and deployment scheduled for this afternoon had to be postponed due to a developing storm. Mooring operations cannot be carried out during high wind conditions due to crane and on-deck safety issues. While we waited for the storm to subside, the captain took the ship back into the ice and "parked" it to lessen the rolling.

Instead of giving a report on the (delayed) mooring operation, I will to tell you a bit about life aboard the Kapitan Dranitsyn.

The Kapitan Dranitsyn is definitely not your typical research vessel. Amenities include a sauna and small sea water pool, a gym with table tennis, a lounge, a library, a computer for sending e-mail, an auditorium (that we use for lectures and movie nights) and a beautiful restaurant.

As it often does on land, life here revolves around meal times. Meals have a strict schedule: breakfast, 08:00–09:00; lunch, 12:00–1300; afternoon tea, 16:00; and dinner, 20:00–21:00. A few minutes before each meal, an announcement is made over the intercom, first in Russian, then in English. The restaurant doors are opened precisely on schedule, not a minute sooner.

As many of the research activities occur at meal time, the restaurant staff graciously takes food to the helicopter hangar or saves some meals to be reheated. If you get hungry between meals, there is a snack bar in the library that searves tea biscuits, bread, hard candy, tea and coffee and is open 24 hours a day.

The food has been wonderful (perhaps too much so for those of us hoping to lose weight on this voyage). Menus are posted daily in both Russian and English. Occasionally, something is lost in translation — my favorites have been smashed potatoes, chicken chests and pee soup — but the flavors are always excellent. Perhaps the most fulfilling menu items for many of us have been the soups. They are absolutely wonderful, especially the national soup of Russia, Solyanka (described on the menu as multi-meat soup).

Dessert is not on the menu, but tea time offers up a host of sweets with everyone's favorite being "pancakes". The pancakes look like rolled crepes and are filled with delights such as caramel or cream cheese. My compliments to the Murmansk Shipping Company and the staff of the ship’s restaurant!

Considering there are close to 150 people on board, the restaurant staff does a tremendous job in both quality and efficiency. Someone is ready to take your plate the instant you are finished, and coffee refills at breakfast come quickly. I remarked the other day that it will be strange to start doing dishes again when I return. I was assured it is like riding a bicycle and will come back to me in a jiffy (so don't worry Jan).

One significant difference from land-based dining is that when seas are rough, out come the sea sickness bags along the handrails in the corridors. The small white bags have been affectionately dubbed "sea luminaries".

dining on the Kapitan DranitsynMeals are one of the best times for socializing. Most people try to sit at different tables every now and then to intermingle, laugh and ask questions about on-going science projects and the Arctic. Social life also takes place in the library and lounge after hours (whenever those are) in the form of conversation, wicked chess matches and impromptu jam sessions — several of the Russians are accomplished musicians. (A few of the teachers are organizing a concert towards the end of the cruise.) There is at least one guitar aboard and even a piano in the lecture hall. A table tennis tournament is ongoing and most people take advantage of the sauna and pool.

One interesting Russian custom involving the sauna is the thrashing of a person's back with birch branches. This supposedly feels good (they say it helps "capture" the heat and makes it more intense). Following a sauna with a quick dip in the sea water pool makes for a totally relaxing experience.

One of the best places to relax is on the bridge. It is usually fairly quiet and dimly lit with just the glow of instruments; and the view is great. You can really appreciate the vastness of the seascape from up there. Several diehards also spend as many hours as possible out on the deck just observing. We watch the changes in the ice, the sky and look for the occasional wildlife (primarily sea birds). The sounds of the ice and water can be hypnotic; the feel of the cold wind against your face invigorating.

One of the challenges we face (don't laugh) is laundry. It costs about $4 US for self-serve and more if you have housekeeping do your laundry. Early in the cruise I opted for the self-serve method which meant I had to choose my time carefully to make sure one of the two washer/dryer combos (the machine is both a washer and a dryer and somewhat confusing to operate) was available. I have not yet gotten the hang of programming the washer/dryer and, as a result, have resorted to removing my clothes after they have been washed and hanging them up to dry in my room — good old-fashioned cord and clothes pins work every time.

The only glitch in my new laundry system is that on laundry day I sit at my desk with underwear and socks hanging just above my head — a photo definitely not suitable for the web. I planned on taking care laundry about once a week, until I realized that the limiting factor in my wardrobe on this (Arctic!) expedition was t-shirts. The ship is so warm that you can't survive wearing any of the cold weather gear inside the ship. In fact, one teacher joked that we have discovered the cause of sea ice melt in the Arctic — heat leaking out of our ship!

An important element of life onboard is communications with home. Outgoing e-mail is expensive, but incoming is free. It brings a smile to your face when you walk around the corner and see white paper in the folder taped to your cabin door — "You've got mail!” The communication specialist, Sasha, is a very busy and popular man. He says that people stop him in the hall all the time and ask, "You have something for me?" He also says that scientists send and receive a lot more e-mails than the retirees that usually dominate the natural history cruises hosted by the Kapitan Dranitsyn (when not on research duty).

In addition to e-mail, passengers can contact home via satellite phone. At Ice Station 3, someone handed me a sat phone and asked if I wanted to make a call. I jumped at the chance — it seemed so amazing to call home while standing on sea ice above 80 °N. I forgot to calculate the time difference, so I'm still not sure what time it was back in North Carolina when I spoke to my wife.

Except for meals, normal routines are difficult to keep — even sleep is catch as catch can. Events and activities are planned around the research schedule, but weather conditions and challenges in deploying or recovering scientific equipment are the true time keepers of ship-board life. I started working on this journal before dinner last night, went to bed (missed dinner), awoke at 03:00, worked for a few hours, and then went back to bed until 08:00. The routine is to not have a routine.

—Mike Dunn


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Kapitan Dranitsyn