(L) Huge chunks of ice 6-8' thick break and tip up as we go by. (R) In addition to fuel consumption (Dranitsyn 400 tons/day as opposed to the Yamal 10 oz/day), Dranitsyn shows why nuclear is better.

(L) A place which temporarily stopped Yamal, a pressure ridge across our path perhaps 12-15' thick. (R) Seals often make their holes in the bottom of these beautiful blue meltwater pools.

(Above left) The helicopter flies small groups of us off the ship and lands out on the ice, where we disembark.  (Above right) The ship sails off into the mist and we are left alone in the middle of the Arctic Ocean with only a pair of armed Russian guards. (Below left)  As the ship disappears, we walk around and consider what we would do if it didn't come back. (Below middle) The captain of Yamal welcomes King Neptune and his retinue aboard and seeks his approval for us to continue to the Pole. (Below right) Flags are broken out as we approach the North Pole.

(R) Passengers crowd onto the bridge for the last few miles to the Pole. The no drinking on the bridge rule was temporarily suspended.  (L) The GPS indicator indicates a distance of 120 feet to 90° N!

Having escaped the fate of being the first vessel towed to the North Pole, the Kapitan Dranitsyn pulls up behind us. Flags are flown, horns blow, and the gangplank is lowered. We are there. My wife becomes one of the few people in the world to receive a telephone call from the top of the world.

(L) Barbecues and boxes of ribs and chicken are lowered for the afternoon's festivities, and bottles of Russian beer are passed around. (R) It's party time at 90° N!

This was the first time that two surface ships had ever been at the North Pole together. The passengers and crew of the Yamal and Kapitan Dranitsyn together represent about 10% of the total number of people that have ever been to the top of the world. At first with the ships' engines turned off, there was an eerie silence, and then music began echoing out across the vast expanse of ice, and people began cheering and singing. It was Thursday, July 21st, and the air temperature was 30°.

(L) Santa puts in a brief appearance as snow begins to fall. (R) Even at the North Pole, there are lines anyplace you can get good ribs, and our Austrian cooking staff sure knew how to cook ribs.

(Above left) The North Pole having been set up on the ice, passengers are "walking around the world." (Above   right) You don't have to go very far from the ship before beginning to disappear. (Below left) Someone taking a solitary stroll. (Below right) Contrary to popular belief, there is nothing at the North Pole except ice.

The extent of summer ice in the Arctic is about 50% of its extent in the winter. Some ice is fairly thin seasonal ice whereas ice that lasts for several years can be 10-13' thick with pressure ridges up to 60' thick. Pressure ridges form when ocean currents and winds drive expanses of ice against each other. Even at the North Pole the sea ice in 1994 was fractured and we had to sail around a bit before selecting an ice floe to anchor against. Arctic sea ice has been decreasing significantly over the past several decades, although 2013 was an exception and sea ice actually increased in that year. Scientists believe however that that was not an indication that the overall trend will not continue. We could see an ice-free Arctic by the end of this century.

It was clear near the ship but foggy in the distance, with a stiff breeze blowing. As the day wore on, snowflakes began falling. Most of the days on the trip were somewhat overcast; we rarely saw bright sunshine. The Russian crew worked hard to set up the tables and barbecue grills, and with over three hundred people it was the biggest group that had ever assembled at the North Pole. There were ceremonies, speeches by both ships' captains, and even an appearance by Santa Claus. A volleyball net was strung up and a vigorous game commenced. Several people had golf clubs and teed off. A soccer game was started, although it was difficult to play in heavy Arctic jackets and snow boots. A flag line was assembled with flags of all the nationalities of passengers and crew represented. The night before, it was learned that a Pakistani passenger would be the first from his country to reach the North Pole, but there was no Pakistani flag. So one was made. People were taking pictures of their friends and having other people take pictures of them. A section of ice was broken open next to the Yamal, and a number of people, mostly Russian (including the Captain) went for a swim in 28° water. Actually, ropes were tied around them, and they dove in and were immediately pulled out. I chose not to take part in this traditional exercise. There were snowball fights and fried chicken and champagne and music and dancing, and altogether it was a block party that few of us, Russian or American, would ever forget.

(L) Yours truly at the North Pole. (R) The daily activities sheet for July 21, 1994.

(L) The colors of the Arctic are typically white, blue, gray and green. (R) The shadow of the Yamal beneath a fogbow, a fairly common northern occurrance, with very weak colors.

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