Passing the North Cape

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22 June 2013

After celebrating the “Fête de la Musique” with accordion melodies, on Saturday afternoon we passed  the North Cape under a rippled sky. Pampered by the Gulf Stream,* with mild temperatures around 15°C., from Tara’s deck we admired the legendary cliffs. Only 180 more nautical miles and we’ll raise a new flag – Russia’s colors will take the place of Norway’s.

The port of Tromsø has long since disappeared in our wake, but will be remembered as a beautiful stopover for the Tara Oceans Polar Circle expedition. In bright sunshine, Tara sailed between the fjords of Norway, to reach (the day after the summer solstice) the dream and ultimate goal of many travelers: the North Cape. 71° 09 North and 25° 47 East. As its name implies, this cape marks the northernmost point of Europe. Like Cape Horn or the Cape of Good Hope (though less dangerous), passing this cape is legendary for sailors. So we took out our cameras and wrote on a small sheet of paper the date and place, to capture this moment forever.

Curious, we ventured into the entrance of the bay for a closer look at these rocky cliffs, where pristine white snowfields compete with the green vegetation trying to take over after the long months of winter. Our little escapade was delightful, but duty calls, so we head off in the direction of Murmansk. As if to console us for this wise decision, the sun disappears for a moment, making way for a downpour. We collected the laundry drying on the back deck of the schooner, and sat down to a good meal. Satisfied with this beautiful day, we were far from imagining that another surprise awaited us a few nautical miles away.

While we were eating, Nicolas de la Brosse, Tara’s first mate had started his night shift alone in the wheelhouse. Night shift – the term doesn’t mean much during these endless days, but the task remains essential. So, Nicolas was on night shift, when he observed a strange phenomenon on the horizon. “From the start of my shift I had trouble judging distances – the horizon line was blurred. And suddenly, I saw the red cargo ship that was sailing at a distance of 3 nautical miles from us, triple in size then disappear in 30 seconds.” To get rid of his hallucinations, Nicolas invites us to join him on deck. In front of our watchful eyes and cameras, the phenomenon happens again. Certainly a mirage, probably the Novaya Zemlya effect!

The Novaya Zemlya effect (Nouvelle Zemble in French) was observed for the first time in 1596 by the shipwrecked crew of William Barents, famous Dutch navigator and explorer. It is in fact a polar atmospheric mirage. In special circumstances, the atmosphere becomes a vector for waves. It guides the rays of sunlight in an unusual trajectory. Due to this phenomenon, Gerrit de Veer, a crew member of the Barents expedition (which remained blocked in the ice during the polar winter) observed the sun rise two weeks before the normal date. No doubt, our Arctic expedition will continue to surprise us!

Anna Deniaud Garcia

*Gulf Stream: warm current in the Atlantic Ocean which warms the climate along the coasts of Northwest Europe.