Arctic Wind

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12 July 2013

An icy wind is blowing in the sails with gusts up to 30 knots. The last samples of the long station of Santa Anna were carefully collected and Tara can resume her journey to the north of Novaya Zemlya. In four days, we should reach the position 77° 11 North and 73 ° 37 East, where the fourth scientific station of the transect Dudinka-Murmansk (Russia) will take place. Until then the scientific and maritime adventure continues in the Arctic.

It’s difficult in the bitter cold to leave the underwater gorge of Santa Anna without a thought for the unfortunate Russian ship which gave its name. After leaving St. Petersburg on July 28, 1912, Santa Anna called at Alexandrovsk, near Murmansk, before embarking on the Northern Sea Route. Under the command of the expedition leader, Brusilov and accompanied by the navigation officer Albanov, the crew trekked the Siberian coast, with the intention of discovering new hunting grounds for whales, polar bears, seals and walruses. But in October 1912 off the Yamal Peninsula, the ship and its crew were caught in the ice.

For over two years, they drifted towards the North Pole, prisoners of the ice, even exceeding the longitude of the Franz Joseph Archipelago without sighting land. In April 1914 with food supplies dwindling, Albanov and thirteen volunteers left the three-master to try to escape fate. Equipped with sleds and kayaks, they carried out a long journey to Cape Flora, south of the Franz Josef Archipelago in the most extreme conditions: cold and starvation. From this trip “In the land of white death *” only Albanov and his companion Konrad survived. No trace of Santa Anna and the crew were ever found.

Amidst an ice-free sea, Tara is under full sail. Occasionally only a small chunk of ice is seen on the horizon. However, a few hundred nautical miles away, a white wall of ice still hinders the access to Dudinka. “The ice conditions have rapidly changed in the past few days and in a week, the area should be accessible,” says a confident Samuel Audrain, the Captain. Our arrival at the mouth of the Yenisei, the river which flows through Dudinka, is scheduled for July 22. Until then, the mission will continue to collect scientific data over the water masses travelled. To ensure a continuous record of measurements on salinity, temperature, etc.., the scientists have set up a “science round.” After a sailor has verified the machinery during his watch, the co-mate will take a tour in the dry lab to check that all instruments are working properly. In total, we’re controlling twenty items ranging from electrical power for machines, freezer temperatures, and correct functioning of software. In case of doubt or failure, Marc Picheral, oceanographic engineer, has earned the right to be woken up. This is also part of the scientific adventure!

Anna Deniaud Garcia

* In the Land of White Death by Valerian Albanov, Random House, Inc.