Intro: Don’t get stuck in the ice

This is a blog of personal reflections and observations I have made from life onboard Draken. This will be an ongoing series throughput the expedition. Hope you will enjoy.

/ Karin Gafvelin, AB

I never wanted to sail into the ice. For the past ten years I have had an obsession with reading about failed polar expeditions, the races towards the poles in the late 19th century, those last unexplored mysteries, the frozen terra incignitos. I understand the drive that made people venture into that unknown, but there is something so profoundly inhospitable about the ice that scares me. I have read one too many accounts of ships getting stuck in the ice while chasing some supposed current that would melt the waters all the way up to the pole to know how it ends. One day you’re happily sailing your ship into the pack ice to go see if Greenland does in fact have rainforests in its northern regions (an actual theory of that time) and then the next thing you know you’re sailing some leaky ship’s boat in some horrible storm or crawling along the frozen tundra of Siberia looking for some hunters to come by and save you. You have eaten your seal skin boots in sheer desperation and now your feet have succumbed to frostbite and every morning you have to cut off chunks of dead flesh from them before you continue your crawl towards potential rescue. No, I know better than to go into the ice, and now I find myself onboard an open viking ship which we just took across the North Atlantic.

Life onboard Draken this past month has been the polar opposite of our existence during the crossing. Tall ships tend to be like that, places of extremes, and on this ship this is particularly true. From extreme cold to extreme heat, from old crew to new crew, from the open ocean to canals and lakes. From our landing in St. Anthony’s, Newfoundland, there was a gradual transition back into civilization, away from the ice. After about one day we stopped seeing icebergs around us, during the second day of our stay in Baie-Comeau we had our first day of summer, in Quebec City we again found ourself surrounded by the luxuries of civilization: good coffee, art museums, wifi connections. It was like being eased into a warm bath.

I don’t miss the ice, but there is something to be said for the strange qualities of existing on the edge like that. The edge of comfort, of potential danger at all times. There is something that is real about it in a way that is both frightening and oddly alluring. Like you are closer to something, some potential outcome that could go either way, and in that closeness there is some sort of surrender that happens. Or at least I felt it at times in the ice. A calm acceptance of the situation. If we hit a growler now, or if a big enough wave breaks over us, then that’s more or less it. And you think this thought, and you realize it is true, then you go into the tent and sleep like a baby. I have yet to understand better how and why that was, or even how the crossing was. Maybe not enough time has passed for me to process it, filter it into a few memories that stand out and give a clearer picture of it. When people ask me how it was, I answer “cold and wet”, because at least that statement is completely true. I will get back to it when I have made more sense of it all.

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The Vikings were accomplished navigators, artisans, traders and story tellers, but their greatest triumph was the ship they built.