”Sailing from the port of Longyearbyen on the Island of Slavbard, latitude 78 degrees 13’ north, our attempted destination is Scoresby Sund in North East Greenland. The Greenland coast is land locked by fast ice for most of the year. There is only a short window of time when it may be possible to reach N/E Greenland. This is a very heavy ice year. Our ship is ice strengthened but it’s not an icebreaker.
The second day at sea is spent slowly poking into a curtain of thick fog. Visibility forward is reduced to no further than the bows of the ship. The radio crackles, “This is Danish navy ship Theseus. Do not proceed any further, wait for us and prepare to be boarded.” For an hour our ship is stationary, wallowing, “dead in the water.”
The Captain is watching the radar; he says quietly, “They are here.” A ghostly grey shape of a navy ship looms up behind us and then disappears again into the fog. A bright red zodiac with four red clad crew members is speeding across the rough sea and the ship is boarded with navy precision. An officer examines the ships papers while the other crewmen check for sea worthiness. We are advised that the area we are heading into has a 9/10ths covering of sea ice 50 nautical miles from land. After some time we are cleared to continue on into the ice.
Early on the third morning we see a thin band of light on the horizon; it’s “the ice blink”, the reflection from dense pack ice.
Anticipation runs high as we approach the pack ice. On the bridge the crew is very intent and unsmiling. No one speaks.
Our expedition leader sits silently at the bridge window. He picks up the microphone, “As you can see we are approaching the ice edge. At the moment we are taking on sea water for ballast. The ship will lay deeper in the water so that the most strengthened part of the ship can be used for sailing through the ice. We will head north so we will have head winds which will make the ship less vulnerable. The ice here has been broken by the waves and the situation looks promising but when we have travelled some nautical miles it may be different, we’ll see.”
We enter a field of broken chunks of ice on a rolling sea. The ice is banking down the wave action. The further we sail the larger these floating ice missiles become.
At this point we are twenty nautical miles from the nearest land. The idea is that we will proceed into the ice with a heading north, while the stream is setting us to the south. The result will be that we sail in the direction of the mouth of the fjord.
The broken ice eventually becomes large pancake ice, heaving in an icy sea. The captain has his binoculars trained on the ice searching for open leads. We charge straight into the ice. There is no open water, just huge lumps of ice, white, blue and the dirty brown of moraine. The further we go the worse the situation becomes. The ship slows to .03 knots. The pack ice becomes a solid field of ice. We can no longer make any headway and are being swept south in the East Greenland ice current. Our speed is one and a half knots backwards!
The sky is leaden and the wind keens across the ice field. There are no open leads. We are not going to Greenland, but the problem is will we get out of the ice? The Captain's face is inscrutable as he paces to each side of the bridge surveying the ice. The danger is getting ice damage to the propeller. After an hour of skilful manoeuvring we retreat south along the ice edge.
In open water we meet large waves head on and the spray is flung up over the bows and drifts back over the ship. To keep our spirits up, we are told that we are in for a special treat. We will go to Jan Mayen Island.
Five hundred kilometres to the east the towering rocky cliffs of Jan Mayen loom up out of the mist. We have been refused permission to land as there is a NATO base here and we are on a Russian Ship. We unobtrusively cruise the rugged coastline, keeping close to the shore.
Loren C was established for long range radio navigation in 1961. A Norwegian territory, the Island is uninhabited save for a small military presence.
The Mountains are wreathed in low cloud and then a window opens in the cloud and reveals sunshine on snow clad Beeranberg, the most northerly volcano in the Arctic.
An Irish Monk, St Brendan the navigator is believed to have sailed in this area in the sixth century. He reported a terrible noise and a black Island that was on fire. He thought he had discovered the entrance of Hell.
We sail around a rocky headland and there in the cove is a sleek grey gunboat!
The radio crackles ominously. The Captain takes this call in the radio room. He has been caught red-handed!
We are ordered to leave at once and are now under the control of the gunboat. We retreat carefully; the Captain at the helm. We are guilty of breaching their three mile exclusion zone!“