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11 August, 2004

First polar bear sighting!

The first polar bear of the expedition was sighted just after midnight last night. There was a contest to see who could most accurately predict the first sighting and Erik, the teacher from Sweden, won! There were 5 bears seen altogether by noon, including a mother and cub, but I missed them all. Today I shall be on "polar bear alert".

We are now officially an armada - 3 ships heading north together. Yesterday the drilling ship, the Vidar Viking, caught up with us about midday. It had left Tromso after us and was slowly making its way towards us. We had some sporadic sightings for a bit but then she disappeared into the fog. The Viking is a bright yellow and black ship with a huge red drilling derrick affixed to it so when it did finally clear the fog, it was quite a sight! Everyone was ready with cameras when she came into view, because it made the expedition that much more real to have her join us.

We met up with the third ship at the ice edge. The Russian nuclear icebreaker Sovetskiy Soyuz, will lead the way through the thicker ice, while the Oden's job will be to keep ice away from the Vidar Viking so it can maintain exact position over the coring site. It should be quite an operation to observe.

Approaching the first ice was such an event! There was so much excitement when the first floes came into view, even though they were so small and isolated. We were clicking away with all sorts of cameras as if we'd never seen a piece of ice in our lives. Well for some of us, we had never seen sea ice, especially arctic sea ice, and it was a "first" worth recording. It was hard to take myself away from watching more and more floes come into view, but it was past midnight and I needed to get back to my cabin and get some sleep. Yet it was still so bright out, even brighter than earlier in the day because the fog had lifted. It just does not seem right to be going to bed when the sun is shining, even if my wristwatch tells me it is time. The problem is that my body doesn't feel sleepy in such daylight.

Getting back and forth between the vessels is essential because the science party is on the Oden but the drilling takes place on the Vidar Viking. We got a close-up look at the different transfer modes. There are 2 helicopters on the Oden that will be used for personnel and sample transfers as well as ice reconnaissance. All who might ride in the helicopters were required to parcticipate in training. We learned about the safety equipment and procedures and practiced how to get in and out and strap ourselves in securely. I'm ready whenever I get a chance to fly.

The other mode of transfer doesn't hold as much appeal for me. It is a transfer by wire mesh basket from one ship to the other. All the paparazzi were on deck when the first basket transfer took place. The geochemistry people, Gerry and Luzie, as well as Dave, a microbiologist, were the first to ride the basket. The Vidar Viking came into position with the Oden, stern to stern and then both ships had to maintain a steady position. It was quite a sight as a crane lifted the basket off the Oden and then gently placed it down on the helicopter deck of the Viking. A success! Perhaps I'll wait awhile before asking to travel by basket although the riders said it was great fun.

Basket transfer from the Oden to the Vidar Viking

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