13-Jul-2009 – I fully understand why Confluence Points on open water are not appreciated. The ocean looks quite the same on the whole world. Well this particular piece of ocean is different. It is covered with sea ice.
124 passengers and 120 crew & staff of 25 nations sailed from Murmansk (Russia) to the Confluence Point 90°N on the Russian ice breaker "50 Let Pobedy (50 Лет Победы, "50 Years of Victory").
After we left Franz Josef Land where we nearly visited the Confluence Point 80°N 58°E we entered the closed ice surface and the ship did the job it can do best: to break through the ice. For me and most of the passengers it was the first experience breaking through the ice. I must admit the ride through the ice is something spectacular. Surely people who have not experienced it themselves would not understand but the landscape, the power and the easiness how the ship goes through the ice is very special. Even the expedition staff who did such a trip many times said this is a kind of hypnosis.
You might think there is a closely covered surface of ice on the ocean like it is on a frozen lake, but in reality there are pressure ridges, channels, little ponds and patches of open water. Additionally the color of the ice changes and the shades of blue of old ice – also on glaciers – is one of the most beautiful colors for me.
Our ship "50 Let Pobedy" sailed through the ice, but even if the captain claims there is no ultimate thickness of the ice for his ship the man on the helm tried to find the easiest and thus fastest way through the ice. Therefore he looks for channels or open water and tries to avoid the pressure ridges and multi year ice. This leads to a zig-zag course and can be seen even on a low scale electronic nautical chart. Although the ship goes a longer way it can keep a speed of about 11 knots and sails faster and much more comfortable. Only in very thick multi year ice is the speed reduced to 3 knots and in very few occasions it must reverse and ram the ice.
Breaking through ice is quite a bumpy ride and the thicker the ice, the bumpier it gets. I think only a few passengers slept well during the first night in the ice.
Another interesting aspect of ice breaking is that the ice cracks about 50 Meters ahead of the ship. The cracks looks like a flashes and are seldom straight ahead. Instead the cracks propagate to various directions. This is very funny and sometimes it looks like crack in comic strips.
On this particular evening I stood on the bridge and watched the ship go through the ice. I liked the bridge, because it was quiet there and one had very good views around the horizon. Certainly I had an eye also on the GPS screen of the ship and by pure coincidence I saw it approaches a Confluence Point. My camera in hand I concentrated on the latitude, because here at 83°N one arc-minute of the longitude equals to 226 meters compared with 1852 meters on the equator. As the ship reached 83°N I took the GPS photo and quickly the photos of the four cardinal directions.
On the north photo a patch of open water can be seen as well as some new ice with its dark gray color. The crack on the bottom of the right hand side was produced by the ship. On the east view again new ice, old ice and ponds of melted (fresh-) water on multi year ice are visible. Additionally some little pressure ridges appear. The south view photo shows part of the ship and some ponds. Again on the western view photo dark and light gray new ice can be seen as well as the old ice with snow cover.
Photos from other locations show the thickness of the broken ice and some pressure ridges, which are caused by wind and current.