Our iconic, storied icebreaker which made the expedition possible: The Kapitan Khlebnikov has six engines and can reach 18 nautical miles with all six engines engaged. At such times it uses 92 tons of fuel a day. It holds a total of 3,500 TONS of fuel and usually travels at 15 knots per hour. The ship was built in Finland in 1981. There were 93 guests and 70 staff and crew on this circumnavigation. The KK is 122.5m (435’) long, 26.5m (87’) wide, draft 8.5m (28’).
The ship was the most important actor in our expedition …. When we were on expeditions, long days trekking and exploring, the thought of our warm, welcoming ship provided a sense of well being. It became our home, our nest. My best pal, JP, on the KK goes wherever it goes. He doesn’t even care where it is headed, he will go. This was his eight trip on the KK. He was also on the October trip we did to the Arctic in October to visit Emperor Penguins. It is not a fancy vessel, it is a working Russian icebreaker, but it has an aura.
Of the utmost importance on the voyage, enhancing our experience throughout the voyage, were the two Russian helicopters, and their amenable (non English speaking) Russian pilots. Later, due to national sovereignty issues, we welcomed two Canadian helicopters and their pilots, David and Patrick and their 6’6’ engineer, Pascal. They flew 4,587 miles from the Quebec area to us in Grise Bay. They slept one night in their helicopters because they had to conserve fuel to get to us and the weather was bad. Along the way, they stopped 14 times for refueling. We had six helicopter rides per leg of the trip ... so I had at least 24!!
Because we were there in the brief Arctic summer, flowers were everywhere.That amazed me. Often they were tiny, nestled in whatever shelter they could find, a rock, an indentation in the land.
As in an expedition of this kind, everything is weather dependent. Nothing is set in stone or promised. One is told: “We hope to see such and such tomorrow...”. So far, on my polar trips I have been fortunate and seen almost everything we could have hoped for.
Svalbard is a Norwegian archipelago located in the Arctic Ocean north of continental Norway, about 650 miles (1,050 kilometers) from the North Pole (longitude 10° and 35° E and latitude 74° and 81° N). It is the northernmost, year-round settlement on Earth, with a population of about 2,200. Recently, Svalbard has been trying to move its economy more toward tourism and scientific research, and away from coal mining, which supported much of the economy since the early 20th century.