Mountain Summits and the Deep Blue Sea

Just under 200 miles to go until we reach the shores of Iceland; another 30 or so beyond that to our docking spot in the city of Akureyri. And it has been a tumultuous couple of days since I last puked on this keyboard.

Our climbers summited on Sunday the 10th and were met at their base camp on the 11th by the station chief with whom Boogie and Marlies had dined; he was kind enough to drive out and grab their gear, then drive back and bring them back to the station on the south side of the island. We loaded them aboard Polar Bear and then we all went back to the station for hot showers; some in the group even enjoyed the hot pool the station has on-site. That evening, I took the climbing crew back to the station for drinks at the bar there. We spent a nice evening socializing and learning more about the people who work there, and it was a nice, final bit of off-the-boat time before our morning departure. And yeah, a couple of beers were nice too.

Then yesterday, the 12th, we got everything in order in the morning and pulled the hook at noon. Destination: Iceland, about 360 miles southwest.

As if getting to Jan Mayen wasn’t enough, and climbing a volcano there still not enough, the Norwegian Sea was going to make sure these folks paid their dues. Within minutes of being back on the boat, several were green with mal de mer again — and that was in the lee of the island, where the water was calm and the wind slight. Once we emerged from behind the south cape, the wind picked up, humping up the seas into a chop on top of a longer-period swell rolling in from some distant disturbance. Within hours, the wind had backed around to being right on our nose, making the journey even more trying.

And COLD! Again with the low temps: right at zero Celsius — that’s freezing, or 32 Farenheit, for you folks keeping score at home — with fog, drizzle and an incessant wind making for much colder conditions.

And if that wasn’t enough, about 12 hours into the journey, the engine decided to puke up its coolant. Again. This time, half an hour from the end of my 9pm-12am watch, so I stayed up for two hours of Boogie’s watch, cleaning that mess up and helping him remedy the situation. We got rolling again — after an hour-plus of moving at barely 2 knots — and I got a measly three hours of sleep before I was up for a four-hour, 6-10am watch in the coldest conditions so far: same zero-degree temp with thick fog coating everything in a sheen of mist and a strong, 25-knot wind cooling everything to well below freezing. Let’s just say that I wasn’t a happy camper at that point.

Once that watch was over, I slept the sleep of the dead until around 3pm, when I got up and got dinner going. Beef goulash. And boy, was it blah (I cooked it so I can say that). Something like that needs to simmer for hours, not just 30-45 minutes. While I’m not proud of my creation, it warmed the inside and everyone seemed to like it.

But the wind and seas have calmed now and the fog has lifted enough to let a touch of sunshine in. And the air has actually warmed up to 2 or 3 Celsius…balmy!

So I’m sitting in the snake pit — the little alcove beneath the boom, forward of the cockpit and aft of the mast where all the lines from the mast are led — typing this silliness out, just to get in the habit again. The water is, as I say, much calmer now though the lighter wind persists in being on the nose. But no matter: we’re motoring more or less toward our destination with an estimated midday-Friday arrival.

And now the water is an amazing shade of blue. It’s the same shade I enjoyed in the North Atlantic aboard Star Chaser last spring, when the gulf stream turned the inky black water into a deep azure; a blue so deep it’s like you’re looking into the eyes of a lover, one whose soul you feel a part of. Corny, I know, but it’s true: this is a blue that goes way past the easy-to-love turquoise of the tropics. Here, the key word isn’t “blue” or “azure,” it’s “deep” — and I’m not referring to how much water there is below our keel. No. Here the depth starts right at the surface and draws you in as though you’re looking into the heart of the Milky Way galaxy or the very universe itself. Perhaps it’s what it would be like to look into the atom, the building block of all things — it’s a connection that defies description and is beyond one’s understanding, but is not beyond one’s feeling a part of a greater whole. It’s welcoming and frightening, awe-inspiring and forbidding, all at the same time. It is irresistible and peaceful and comforting at the same time it is defiant and provocative and terrifying. It’s beautiful.

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