So when his Lordship and I were discussing our holiday plans eighteen months ago it seemed like a reasonable leap to undertake our own polar exploration. We decided to go to the Arctic.
Unsurprisingly it is not quite as simple as making a quick call to Thomas Cook and booking a package. There are medicals to be done to make sure you are up to the task, insurance to cover the event of being eaten by a Polar Bear or being struck by an iceberg. Oh and I have to warn you, should you ever come across them, walrus are a tad grumpy too.
Our journey began the first week in July last year. We flew from Gatwick to Oslo, then onto Tromso in the north of Norway. From there we flew on to Longyerben in Spitzbergen. Here we picked up our ship, a Russian Akademick class exploration and scientific vessel.
Now clearly this was not the QE2, (I have partied across the atlantic on the old gal). His Lordship and I had a cabin with en suite facilities. Don't look bored, only four of the rooms had this 'luxury'. The rest had to share bathrooms, and bunks!! Ok, ok, a girl has to have certain standards even in the Arctic. The Russian plumbing I have to say was erm, somewhat interesting. The en suite bathroom consisted of a cupboard in the corner of the room that had huge cast iron pipes running through it. The shower was in one corner and the toilet was opposite. The entire floor of the room was the shower tray. A hole in the floor next to the toilet was where the water, eventually ran out. It was I have to say an interesting experience attempting to use the toilet after taking a shower, especially in rough seas!! You may be asking yourself at this point, 'why is she rattling on about the plumbing arrangements?' The Russian plumbing was to be a constant theme throughout our journey.
Our first night, (obviously not as in dark, 24 hour daylight at that time of year), was spent doing the mandatory ship safety briefing, climbing into the survival capsule. Not as easy as it might appear with umpteen layers, a life jacket and wellies. However it did allow us to get on 'intimate' terms with our fellow passengers, 22 of them. We were also introduced to the ship's Doctor who turned out to be an ER surgeon from Los Angeles. She had been on many explorations and it soon became apparant that unless it was bleeding profusely, dropping off from the cold or not breathing there would be no sympathy.
It was not difficult getting to sleep that night even in sub zero temperatures and with daylight outside. The cabin was insulated with layers of thick curtains and the bunks also had curtains to shut out the light and keep in the warmth. The following morning found us making our way around a southern cape of the island, now in open water the sea was throwing some heavy waves our way and the small ship tossed about like a childs toy. His Lordship, myself and her Ladyship were among an elite little band of seven at breadfast as the rest had not yet found their sealegs. As the morning progressed the sea ice got increasingly more compact and the horizon disappeared in and out of fog banks as we forged further north.
This was Polar Bear habitat and this year the ice cap had not receeded as far as it had in other years, this was good for the Polar Bears, and good news for us searching for them. From now on there would be a twenty four hour Polar Bear watch. Once sighted no matter what the hour we would be at our muster station and ready to hit the
ground ice fully prepared. This was it, this was what we had come here for and the excitement was palpable.