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Daily Journals

September 8, 2006

The hardest thing about writing these journals is recalling what happened the day before — each day seems like four, with a little sleep and plenty of meals thrown in. Today was no different.

I stayed up until 23:30, checking the sky, looking for signs of a promising sunrise. The sky was gray and overcast, so I turned in. At about 01:30, Sasha, the Kapitan Dranitsyn's communications specialist, burst into my room, shoved the screen of his compact digital camera into my still groggy face and excitedly exclaimed that I had to get up to see the incredible sunrise.

Sundogs at sunriseThe sun, guarded on either side by sundogs, was just stretching above the horizon. The rainbow-colored sundogs extended upward and a column of light emanated from the sun. Birds, hunting for food in the open water created by the ship as it searched for a mooring, dipped and turned in front of the sun. Tiny ice crystals blowing in the wind made everything sparkle. All of these things added to the surreal look of the sky.

Iceberg Besides the birds and sundogs, there was an additional sight on the horizon — icebergs (also called bergs). Seven or eight massive bergs of different sizes and shapes — all sculpted by wind and water and capped by snow — were scattered across the surrounding ocean. The ship’s maneuvering brought us closer to one of these floating wonders. We estimated it to be between 25 and 30 meters in height and about 400 meters wide (medium size for a berg). Knowing that most of an iceberg’s total bulk (about 7/8) lies beneath the surface, imagine what was below our medium berg.

Unlike sea ice, icebergs are made of freshwater, not sea water. They are pieces of land-based glaciers or ice sheets that have broken off and floated away. The icebergs that surrounded us probably came from the nearby islands of Severnaya Zemlya or Franz Joseph Land, both of which have considerable ice cover.

Unable to locate the mooring we were in the area to recover, we steamed away from the icebergs. The day progressed and we had our first full day of sunlight since beginning our trip 20 days ago. After tea, I spent a few hours out on the bow watching ice. (Not as boring as it sounds, honest!)

One of the Russian scientists joined me briefly and we shared the joy of watching the setting sun paint the sky. Glancing starboard, I was surprised to see the full moon rising. I skated from one side of the deck to the other — the deck was incredibly slick — and tried to get a photo worthy of the moment. Then I just stopped and enjoyed the show. When the sky finished putting on its best performance of the voyage, I was simply thankful I was in the audience.

—Mike Dunn


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Kapitan Dranitsyn