Reminiscing about Federov

Over the past few weeks we’ve heard tidbits of Marc Oggier’s adventures on the MOSAiC expedition support icebreaker, the Federov. On October 8, Marc had a few minutes to share a more complete pictures of his time. He is now on Polarstern and the Federov will soon return to Port in Norway. 

On the evening of October 19th, the R/V Polarstern left Tromsø, while the Akademik Fedorov, the shipped I boarded, remained behind, waiting for some delayed cargo. “We are faster, we will catch up,” said the captain, trying to be reassuring.

The next morning we departed. We sailed through the Norwegian sounds. I admired, for the last time for the upcoming months, an almost snow-free landscape. Some termination dust [the first snow to dust the mountains] already covered the highest mountains.

As we reached the open sea, the ice breaker started to roll a bit more. Few people felt sea sick, and even less remained in bed. Every morning, the day started with the wake-up call through the loudspeaker in the cabin: “Today is October 20th. Expedition members wake up…”, followed by some Russian music. Half an hour later, the breakfast was served.

On board, we have little interactions with the officers, and even less with the crew. Even the helicopter pilot and bear guards have their own designated tables in the large mess. However, we, the expedition participant, mixed and matched frequently at the 8-person tables. We formed quite a heteroclite crowd from institutions all over the world, there were scientists, expedition leaders, 6 journalists, 20 students and a few high school teachers attending the MOSAiC school. Alaska is a small world, and somehow it was well represented on the Fedorov. A few minutes after boarding, I had met Katie Gavenus, an educator from Homer, and Ying-Chih Fang, whom I met when he worked at the University of Alaska Fairbanks a couple of years ago. Later, Ravenna Koenig, one of the reporters, who also lived in Fairbanks for a year and half, joined us.

As we sailed north-east, the days passed slowly. Every 4 hours, we got fed: breakfast at 7h30, lunch at 11h30, teatime at 15h30 and dinner at 19h30. In between, I read, wrote or discussed with other participants. Every day, late afternoon, a general meeting took place in the mess. Thomas, the cruise leader, keep us updated on the expedition plan, the progress in the preparation of the buoys which would later be deployed, and the weather forecast for the next two days was presented by a student. After dinner, people either played cards, disappeared in their smartphones communicating with family and friend, or just went to sleep to catch up on the hour we lost almost every night due to the changing time zone.

Then, there was that night, which coincided with the first night with the “bar” open. According to the calculation of Thomas, enough beers and wine were loaded in Tromso for 6 evenings; once a week for the length of the Federov. During the day we had crossed during the 80N parallel, and it was planned to cross the ice edge during the night. Those who had never seen sea ice, excited by the perspective, stayed on deck. Falk, a teacher from Berlin, was the first one to sight it. Despite people rushing out, following his announcement in the mess hall, the floe had disappeared in the darkness before anyone set foot outside. Around midnight, Michel, a scientist at the University College London, saw it. His announcement caused another mass movement. This time, peering in the dark night, we saw a small milky grayish mass passing along the ship. Soon after, the icebreaker split his first floe, triggering a vibration that quarried throughout the ship. Although the excitement increased proportionally to the number of floes surrounding the ship, one by one, people went back to their bunk, and fall asleep rocked by the regular shacking of the ship.

Jessie and I returned to a quiet mess hall. We opened a last beer, remembering fondly about our first glimpse of sea ice. Suddenly, the boat rocked. It was not comparable to any of the previous gentle shudders. The ship was vibrating. It was a huge vibration. We looked at each other, we were there. We went outside, there were a plethora of floes. We were in ice-covered water. Ice chunks as far as the eye could see, and we were sailing through them. 

The Fedorov offers little amenities to exercise: an old indoor bicycle and table tennis, shared with the crew. Neil, one of the students participating to the school, decided to lead a cross fit session at the aft. Thus, in the brisk and dry air of the Arctic about a dozen old and young scientists started to exercise on the cold and somewhat greasy floors of the deck. Soon after, Jessie, a researcher from the University of Colorado, started to offer a yoga session. Once again, more than a dozen of us, packed in the small and warm lecture room, stretched our extremities until feet and hands almost touched. A couple of researchers for whom it wasn’t their first cruise, found that the presence of the 20 students both energized and relaxed the atmosphere on board. There was a combination of youngness and a little less seriousness.

Go back to MOSAiC expedition homepage.

The Federov seen through the windows of Polarstern. Alfred Wegener institute/Esther Horvath (feature photo also taken by AWI/Esther Horvath)