Our day at the Pole
28 Aug 2011
You would expect an expedition blog to wind down once you've reached the finish line. Well, there is very little of this adventure that has followed a rule book...including our ending.
The last 36 hours have been a roller-coaster for us and once again a story of two halves. Part One saw us flying along unopposed towards our goal until BOOM, just as we were preparing to crack open the bottles of Old Pulteney, we were hit by this fiercesome blockade of ice. So Part Two began.
My fears in Thor Island about a final Arctic assault had really come true big time: she had summoned her troops and set out one last challenge. 10 hours later we had won the battle and celebrate success. But the war was by no means over.
The weather gods clearly didn't share our joy in finishing. We awoke to skies thick with freezing fog."
Jock set up his very own media centre in the forward cabin, occasionally summoning one of us to bring him more coffee or breakfast - on demand . Well, he’s the skipper. Anyway, while lord muck was lounging in his suite, the rest of us got to work with planning the day's movements.
Dave and Mark D went off to do a ‘recce’ of the area to see if there were any leads or obvious routes that would help get us to land . At this stage land, no matter where, was our priority. They returned with news that the leads had increased, but still ice locked. They sketched out a proposed route, but as per yesterday, much of it would be decided as we traveled. Little by little, metre by metre, we would try and edge our way forwards, hopefully towards our planned extraction point some 19nm away.
It was amazing how upbeat and game the crew was for the challenge that lay ahead. Not one person had dropped their head at the propsect of another day (may be two) dragging and pulling the boat over the ice and rowing. True team spirit.
... finesse wasn't on the cards as pick axes, pulleys and a good old dose of brute force were applied liberally to get the OLD PULTENEY moving."
Within the space of 2 hours we could see a prominent lead in the distance. If we could reach that then this could provide a waterway towards dry land. So, we packed the boat, got in to our cold water gear and set off. Whilst the horizon looked more promising what was noticeable was the rate at which the water was freezing. The leads from yesterday hadn't closed up with 'bergs but had, in fact, started to freeze. In some places what was free flowing water was now 25-30mm of ice. It’s more proof of how lucky we’d been to get here so quickly. Days clearly counted. Anyway Mark D, Rob S, Dave M and myself took to the waters and the 'bergs to make a start in clearing a route for the OP, whilst Jock and Mark B took care of operations on board. Mark D led the operation masterfully.
Hats off to Mark D and Dave M for a masterclass in Arctic swimming. Suffice to say, they are no seals when it comes to grace in the water, but very effective ice breakers nonetheless."
Check out this video of taken yesterday of the crew crossing an ice field for the first time, on the final day of the expedition...
After approx 2 hours of wading, whacking and winding our way through and over the ice, we finally made it to the bigger lead. It had actually opened up even more giving us hope we could get back to rowing and get all the way to our planned extraction point. So we all clambered aboard. Mark D, Dave M and myself took to the oars in the hope of warming up. Poor Rob got the short straw as, despite being wet and cold, he was tasked (as reigning 'hero helmsman') with guiding us to land. It was a posioned challice if ever there was one.
After a few lusty blows to the ice from the oars we were free...at last - something that was greeted with a massive cheer from the crew as we finally broke from the clutches of the suffocating ice field.
With strong N.Easterlies (20+ knots) rowing head on into the wind was tough going, but given the past couple of days it was all relative, and a great way to get the blood flowing and our senses back! Whilst we only had to travel about approx 5 miles, it took us 3 hours. I must make a special mention to Rob's claim that we were 100 metres from land. It took us an hour to cover!
Our desired route to the extraction point at Isachsen was blocked with ice so we had to make do with beaching further down the coast. For us all another euphoric moment just to have made land. Fittingly, Jock powered us home for the final few strokes bellowing out at the top of his lungs one final rousing speech: another spine tingling moment akin to that on our departure day in Resolute (A Braveheart moment?).
Tomorrow on to Isachsen's airfield.
Historic - First team to row to any pole position
26 Aug 2011
Jock and the ROW TO THE POLE crew are elated. They have reached the 1996 Magnetic North Pole.
The final 50 mile leg of the expedition was a tale of two halves, beginning with a 48 mile forward surge by sea, and followed by an on-ice struggle to traverse a two mile ice field. Conditions were excellent as the crew began and made great progress as they rowed 40 miles through the Arctic night. With 10 miles to go, the ice grew denser and became progressively more difficult to navigate. The crew began celebrating the completion of their journey prematurely when, with two miles to go, a wall of ice blocked their passage and presented the crew with their final extreme polar challenge. The same winds that had cleared much of the route into Deer Bay had, ironically filled much of it with ice that had drifted in after days of battering winds. To finish the journey the crew had to use the one routine they had rehearsed the least – man-hauling the boat on its special runners over the ice.
The crew has made the magnificent achievement of rowing 500 miles through Arctic waters. It is normal for Arctic pack ice to retreat each summer. What has become most striking in recent years is the accelerated rate of summer sea ice loss which has made this adventure possible.
Remarkably, the final two miles was the first and only ice blockage which they had to trek across."
The two mile long ice field had to be surmounted to achieve the expedition’s objective of becoming the first to complete a journey to a pole positioning by row boat. The OLD PULTENEY Ice Boat was perfectly designed to meet this challenge: Her cathedral hull has runners that allow her to be dragged like a sled. Even so, the two mile trek was an epic task for the exhausted crew as they dragged her over huge ice hillocks, through ice rubble and crumbling ice leads. The boat was heaved in-and-out of small ice breaks which provided brief respite until they encountered more ice rubble that once again blocked their path. Billy Gammon, a crew member and veteran ocean rower, referred to this stretch as...
The most arduous difficulty I have ever faced.”
The crossing took almost 10 hours as the crew dragged the 1.3 ton boat, arriving at the 1996 Magnetic North Pole at six thirty in the evening local time (0130 BST).
Having overcome a fortress of ice, the OLD PULTENEY ROW TO THE POLE crew have reached their destination, utterly exhausted and feeling they had given everything to do it. This voyage is the first polar rowing expedition since Antarctica 1916 when Sir Ernest Shackleton ordered the crew of the Endurance to their rowing boats to escape the pack ice that surrounded and crushed their ship. The crew have earned a small piece of adventure history for two significant achievements: (1) they are the first team to row to any pole position and (2) they have set a new gold-standard in ocean and endurance rowing.
50 miles to go, lets row
24 Aug 2011
Jock and the crew review latest ice conditions and decide to press forward
We’re ready to go for. You could say, the beginning of the end. The plan is to push off towards the end of the day. Right now, the last weather is the same. The winds are still high (25 knots) and seas are rough. But intel from our UK weather and ice experts predict good conditions this evening. The winds are going to drop to under 10knots. From the OLD PULTENEY boat looking into Dome Bay, the ice has started to move away and is being pushed off shore by the gusty Easterlies.
What’s happening with the ice is less clear. Things can change so fast. The sea ice can move quickly when it breaks up. That’s what happened when we made our 70mile crossing to Ellef Ringnes Island. The ice was thick and unmovable, but changed rapidly in the space of only a few days.
In a matter of days the summer ice around Ellef Ringnes changed from a large fractured pack ice, to much more dispersed ROWABLE waters
Our UK team of ice experts at Polar Imaging Limited are doing tremendous work feeding the boat with the latest sat imagery. The problem is timing! Everything takes time. The remote images have to be taken by MDA’s Radarsat2 satellite, interpreted in the UK, then fed to us on our boat’s intermittent email access. But they are absolutely fundamental to me in planning the next vital leg of the journey.
So today we have decided it’s time to go. With the winds changing the ice rapidly and latest satellite images show an ice lead developing there is our first opportunity! So, we’re gearing up and pushing off from Thor Island. 50 miles, Noice Peninsula and then the 1996 Magnetic North Pole.
Progress and Challenges to come
10 Aug 2011
Check out the latest video update from Resolute