It is 1930, Norwegian summer time. We are located at 79.35 north latitude, a little over 600 miles from the North Pole. Behind us lie the Svalbard Islands, midway between northern Norway and Greenland. Our goal is 80 degrees north and the Arctic ice pack. Right now this goal is very much in doubt.
Fog has reduced the visibility we need to find open leads in the ice. At present we can see at most a quarter of a mile. And an unforecast wind is starting to blow at right angles to our course from the west. Wind Horse, our FPB 83 motoryacht, is at idle, while we watch the weather and analyze the risk factors.
That you can get this close to the Pole is amazing. If we were in the Southern Hemisphere, we’d already be on the ice sheets of Antarctica at 65 degrees latitude. In Greenland, we’d have been stopped by pack ice hundreds of miles south, and Alaska’s Glacier Bay is 1,100 miles closer to the equator than our present position. But the west coasts of the Svalbard Islands are kissed with the remnants of the Gulf Stream, so this area is typically navigable—with a great deal of care—by the middle to the end of July.
Caution is the watchword. We are on our own. If there is a problem, we either sort it out ourselves, or suffer the consequences. There are no technicians to make service calls, nobody to rescue us if we set off the EPIRB. And if we make a mistake judging the weather, and become trapped by the ice pack, we are here, at best, until next summer.
Enveloped in the warm, dry cocoon of Wind Horse’s interior, surrounded by a tough metal hull with a double bottom, five watertight bulkheads, and 3/4-inch-thick windows, it is easy to lose touch with the reality of the far north. But we know the west wind can quickly close the open leads through which we have worked to arrive at this point.