Juan Rivera, Bosun of the Healy, is telling me that the ship is no longer attached to the ice. It has broken away and we’ve been abandoned on the sprawling wasteland of a frozen Arctic Ocean with only scientific instruments, a sizeable supply of Gummy Bears™ and our raw human wits to ward off the inevitable polar bear attacks and bouts of frostbite as we strike out for land some 200 km to the east.

Coastguard BOSN, Juan Rivera looks after the well being of the science crew during the ice station stops.

Coastguard BOSN, Juan Rivera looks after the well being of the science crew during the ice station stops.

But of course that’s not what he’s saying. That’s just what I’m hearing.

What he’s actually saying is that the winds have shifted and the Healy, acting like a giant sail, has been pushed from the floe where it was previously docked. The ropes that hold the ice anchors have snapped, one after the other. Now the Healy has raised its gangplank and is repositioning itself to allow us to get back aboard.

We’ve moved away from the ship, over an ice ridge, and away from the danger of the ice cracking from an awkward motion of the icebreaker’s bow. Away from the danger of being flipped into ice-cold water while equipment falls through widening cracks and people flee from a splintering ice-edge like something out of a Hollywood movie as the Healy ploughs through the ice like it were no more than the crust of a crème brulé.

But there’s a baffling lack of concern for this eventuality from the group of scientists and Coastguard. Some people are a little frustrated that science for this ice station has to be curtailed as we await rescue, but most are buoyant at this twist on the standard routine, a story to tell folks on our return to land. Some even start joking about out chances of survival in this extreme environment.

This is the way of the Arctic, Juan continues. Things are always in motion: the wind, the ice, the water, the ship. You have to be alert to rapid changes and quick to readjust. And in this case, the Coastguard certainly showed their poise and skills in both respects. Still, I couldn’t help but feel slightly ticked off by their ability to drain the drama from what should have been a charged situation. I would have to make do with the drama in my head as I warily eyed the horizon line, convinced that by the time I saw the bear, it would already be too late…

(We all made it aboard shortly after. Just in time for dinner.)

After breaking free from its anchor on the ice, Healy realigns to allow the crew to board. The crew waits behind an ice ridge.

After breaking free from its anchor on the ice, Healy realigns to allow the crew to board. The crew waits behind an ice ridge.

About The Author

Ben Harden
Documentarian

Ben is a polar oceanographer and meteorologist working at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. He is also a multimedia producer making radio and video programs. On this expedition Ben will be documenting the science and life aboard the Healy in a range of mediums.

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