Adrian Flanagan and Barrabus still making good progress despite the ice.
Without real-time satellite imagery it is difficult to tell the extent of sea ice, impossible from the deck of a small boat which gives me a visual horizon of only a few miles. Climbing halfway up the mast doesn’t help when the ice is some distance. So, with trepidation I approached the edge of the pack southeast of Proliv Dimitriya Lapteva. I looked for a way around but couldn’t find any options but to go in, following the channels. I estimated the ice at 3/10 cover, the safe maximum within which a small boat can manoeuvre. The ice projects its cold like a solid wall. I am dressed warmly, helped considerably with a heated mid-layer. A ski mask protects my eyes and prevents the frigid air from drawing tears which obscure my vision. I am in amongst the ice, completely surrounded. The entire mass is moving and shifting on the currents, openings slowly closing, new channels widening, contracting and expanding as though the ice is drawing breath. It is like being a giant among a miniature archipelago. The ice is sculpted, closely resembling land forms. Hills rise and fall – the higher mountains stand 6 feet. Water laps at small bays hewn between promontories. Within the ice perimeter it is calm, the free water flat. Seals rest on level shards, curious at the low growl of my engine. Heads bob up around me, whiskery faces at this unexpected interruption to their day. As I get near the seals, their curiosity gives way to anxiety and they slide quickly to the sanctuary of the water. I am in the ice for six hours, steering cautiously. The ice is softened but submarine edges can still be razor sharp. Barrabas nudges and bumps. My heart gives a small flutter. It is tense but exhilarating. This is pristine. I am the first man to be out here alone, this far from land along Russia’s polar waterway. In this small footprint of the earth’s surface, in this tiny fragment of time, I am discovering, if only of myself. I was eight years old when man first stepped onto the moon. I watched Neil Armstrong with a sense of wonderment and awe. I felt that same sense a few hours ago.