Though the voyage should ordinarily have taken much lesser time, on account of the tumultuous sea and weather, it took us what had been the longest ten days of my life.
At times, the wind even forced our ship backwards, rendering ineffective the propulsion afforded by our engines. The breakages we sustained on board due to rolling of the vessel were piling up each day and there was not much we could do for the items in our own cabins, let alone the items in the deck stores as the Captain had issued strict instructions that no one was to go on deck without his permission, due to unsafe conditions. There we were barred up in our temporary prison, at the mercy of the waves, waiting for the storm to pass and doing our best to get by.
It was a truly humbling experience and we were all grateful once we had made our way into the Barrents sea, into relatively calmer waters.
The temperatures though had dropped to an unforgiving minus 15 degrees celcius. Coupled with the frigid arctic winds, this made for a challenging work environment. Our task though was yet to be completed as the Caroline had not berthed yet. We were instructed to drift for a little off the coast until further instructions were received.
In the distance, an icy fortress beckoned and all aboard were eager to touch land, in Murmansk, Russia and finally stand on “solid ground”- the phrase never had more meaning.
I reported to the bridge for watch, at noon. It was mid day but the ambiance outside told a whole different story. All that illuminated the sky was a soft twilight. The absence of the sun for over four days now was beginning to make me feel rather restless. The only light we had was an oblique extension of the winter sun’s rays for four hours, before the darkness took over again. I had read about this phenomenon in the books but theory could not have explained it so vividly as compared to experiencing it for myself.
In the prevalent season, the sun would hide itself for three months of winter before it revealed its bright disc once again in the sky. Coming from a Tropical country, I’d never have imagined myself longing to see the sun in such a desperate way!
Murmansk VTS finally apprised us of our berthing prospects and we geared up to commence the inbound journey. When I went on deck, the sight that was before my eyes was something straight out of the movies. The near Arctic waters were so cold that it made the vapour, in the air just over it, condense into miniscule droplets and formed fumes of icy smoke just over the sea surface. As the evening set in, the icy-fumes became so concentrated that they engulfed the entire ship in a chilly cloud. It was quite the spectacle. Our visibility was obscured by this “sea smoke” as the phenomenon is termed, and despite all of the warm clothing on me I could barely feel my peripherals.
In the numbing cold we slogged through what was my most difficult “aft station”.
One would think that the cold would result in everyone being cool and calm but, the only thing that was piping hot were the tempestuous temperaments flying about the working environment. Tempers flaring between ship and shore staff. Physical outbursts of anger on malfunctioning equipment, it was all happening! The deck ice kept causing slips among the crew and with every passing minute the job at hand begun to feel more and more impossible to complete.
I was happy to end the stations after what seemed like forever and jump into a hot shower before coming back out….
But what awaited me when I resumed my watch on deck about an hour later was a much welcome change of environment. It was during those hours that I witnessed the magic in the Northern skies, that took my breath away!