Crossing the Barents Sea, named after the Dutch navigator Willem Barentsz. This is a marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean with an average depth of 750'.

Our route on this voyage took us from Murmansk on the North Cape across the Barents Sea to Franz Josef Land, a group of desolate islands at the edge of the Arctic Ocean and just about at the point where the icepack begins. The Franz Josef Archipelago consists of 60 mostly ice-covered islands and was discovered in 1873 by an Austrian and Hungarian expedition. Franz Josef Land is under the control of Russia. From there it was a two-day sail to the North Pole, then back to Franz Josef Land and southeastward to Novaya Zemlya, where we landed on the northern end of the island. Novaya Zemlya is where the Russians conducted about 195 atmospheric nuclear tests. We landed again on the southern end of the island after staying well out to sea on the way south to avoid possibly irradiated areas. Our final landing was at a former Gulag camp on the Siberian mainland that was in operation until around 1970. Two days sailing brought us back again to port.

On the Yamal there were 140 officers and crew. Every single sailor had his or her own cabin, with a full bathroom equipped with shower, sink and toilet, a bunk that could be curtained off, a desk with drawers and cabinets, a convertible daybed, a phone for talking to other people on the ship, a large closet, two good-sized portholes, and a radio and television that broadcast music and movies on a closed circuit. On our first evening aboard, they somewhat whimsically screened The Hunt for Red October! The officers all doubled up, thereby freeing up enough cabins for the passengers. The accomodations were tremendous, especially when you consider that this is a working vessel and not a cruise liner. We did have to keep our portholes open during the whole voyage because the cabins were kept so warm. Russians like warmth, and there is no shortage of energy on a nuclear ship. The problem is not getting heat, it's getting rid of it.

John Steinbeck once said that "we don't take a trip, a trip takes us," and never was the truth of his statement more clearly demonstrated to me than by my excursion to the top of the world, for it was not those things I expected, not the actual crossing of the Arctic Ocean and our arrival at 90 degrees North that proved most meaningful to me. Rather it was being in Russia and seeing things that no westerners would have been allowed to see just two or three short years before, making close contacts with a great group of Russian people and having the chance to influence them as indeed they were influencing us, and the very process and experience of sailing on what is at least in terms of icebreaking the most powerful and technologically modern ship on earth.

On a nuclear-power ship, there is a lot of heat to dissipate, so there are vents everywhere.

(L) The bridge extends the full width of the ship for unobstructed 360° vision. We had access to the bridge at any time. (R) The deck above the bridge, sometimes called Monkey Island, was where I spent most of my free time, with great views all around.

(L) KA-32 double-rotor helicopter with passenger capacity of 15. The Yamal carried two helicopters. (R) One of the ship's four zodiacs lashed next to spare propeller blades, each six feet high and weighing some seven tons. The Yamal had the ability to draw up a damaged propeller through the hull and repair or replace it. We were never able to use the zodiacs because there was too much ice around each of the islands we visited. (Below) One morning we awoke to an unaccustomed stillness and realized we were stopped. We peered excitedly out the window at our first sight of icy Franz Josef Land.

It had taken us about 36 hours before the Yamal entered the pack. We were sitting in the lecture room down below the water line toward the front of the ship when we suddenly heard a loud and unfamiliar whooshing noise, unrecognizable at first. Then it dawned on us what it was, and as a group we all yelled "Ice!" The Professor who was lecturing held his hand up and calmly said that the ice would still be there at the end of his lecture, so we had to wait to get our first glimpse of it. From that point on, through the Franz Josef archipelago and northward, we were in a mixture of open water and mostly broken pack ice of 3-5' thickness, virtually nothing to the 20-inch solid steel bow plates of our great 21,000-ton, 75,000-horsepower icebreaker.

(Upper left) Nothing but sea ice around Cape Norway on Jackson Island. No zodiac landing. (Upper right) The edge of a glacier calving icebergs. (Lower left) Yamal from the helicopter en route to the island. (Lower right) Immediately after disembarking from the helicopter, we all had to kneel down in a tight huddle to avoid being blown away by the powerful downdraft from the helicopter's twin rotors. Second helicopter on landing approach.

Over the next couple of days, we made helicopter landings on several different islands, including some sites of great historical significance, where Fridtjof Nansen wintered over in 1895-1896 after drifting across the Arctic Ocean in his wooden ship Fram and failing to reach the North Pole. We also visited two abandoned scientific research stations and a Russian radar and meteorological station, gaining an invaluable insight into what it must have been like to occupy such desolate places literally near the end of the earth.

(Upper left) How comforting to see our great icebreaker Yamal sitting within sight and patiently waiting for us. (Upper right) These two pictures show the difference between a 28mm lens and a 300mm lens. (Below left) Helicopter returning from Cape Norway. (Below right) Gulls flock to a recent polar bear kill.

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