Welcome! Thank you for joining me, Sharon K. Schafer, on my journey to one of the most remote, beautiful, and truly wild places left on our planet: The Antarctic. I am an artist and naturalist from Nevada, USA who will be photographing, sketching, and journaling my experiences in Antarctica for two weeks in November 2007.

07 November 2007

On Board the Kapitan Khlebnikov in the Beagle Channel

TIME: 23:00
Today I was up early, gathered together my stuff, and ran upstairs for breakfast at 7am. Breakfast is served -- at this quaint bed and breakfast -- on the third floor in the great room. Bounded on two sides by huge picture windows, the room welcomes in the morning. I stood in front of one of the south-facing windows and looked down on the Beagle Channel and the docks. Brilliant sunshine, fluffy clouds, and a view that went on forever: It is truly a beautiful place.

Already at the dock below was our ship, the Kapitan Khlebnikov. The ship had docked about 6am, returning from the last Snow Hill Island-Emperor Penguin Trip looking unscathed. With the break up of the Soviet Union, many of the Russian icebreakers and research vessels have been leased by Antarctic tour operators to be used for eco tours to the frozen Polar Regions. Many of them spend the Antarctic summer (our winter) down south then travel north to the Arctic regions when summer warms the northern latitudes. This is a completes a mechanical cycle of the same migration that the Arctic Terns make. Its hard enough to fathom a ship making the journey, but is seemingly impossible for a small bird.

The Kapitan Khlebnikov is a diesel electric icebreaker operated by the Far East Shipping Company (FESCO) and is registered in Vladivostok. It is 132.4m long and about 26-75m wide and nearly 50m high. For those of you into all things engine:

SPEED: 20 knots (36.5km/h).

PROPULSION: 3 twin DC electric motors, each producing 5400kW in either direction to turn the 22 m long propeller shaft...and yes, Mom, they do carry a spare propeller shaft.

PROPELLERS: 3-4m diameter with four hardened steel blades that turn at about 120-180 times per minute...and yes, Mom, they also carry a spare one of those, which can be deployed at sea.

HULL: 45mm thick where it meets the ice and 22-35 mm elsewhere.

ANCHORS: 2 weighing 6 tonne each with 300m chain...and, yes, Mom, they carry a spare chain too.

OPERATING RANGE: 10500 nautical miles (19,500km).

HEATING: Two boilers provide water for heating system, hot water supply, and steam.

FUEL USE: Daily 6 engines use 13 tonne each, 5 auxiliary engines use 2-5 tonne each, 2 boilers use3 tonne, and 2 air curtain compressors 2-5 tonne each.

MAXIMUM DAILY FUEL USE: When breaking severe ice, 78 tonne fresh water provided by a vacuum distillation apparatus heated by exhaust gasses. 80 tonne daily can be produced.

AIR CURTAIN: Can be deployed to help with breaking ice.

ICE KNIFE: Fitted 26m aft of prow.

ICE SKIRT: A polymer coating on the hull to reduce ice friction.

HELICOPTERS: 2 on board to assist in ice navigation by helping to scout for open leads.

That's a lot of facts but to make a long story short, it is an impressive ship that I'll be boarding later today. I grabbed a taxi and took my bags to the Hotel Los Albatros. From there the bags were taken down the dock and loaded onto the Khlebnikov. At about 3pm I walked down the pier, was checked through three security checkpoints, and wandered toward the ship. The Khlebnikov is so big when you are standing next to her. She rises 8 decks with the bridge on top of that. Not a graceful shape; she looks unbalanced as though a square eight-story building was plopped down on top of the deck, but she looks strong and sure. I'll take that over good looks any day.

I boarded the ship and made my way to my cabin on deck 5. There it was, cabin 506: my home for the next 14 days. Almost as soon as we had cast off, we had the mandatory lifeboat drill. Lifeboats in this region of the world look like orange submarines. They have to be completely enclosed and heated. I was told a person would only last about 4 minutes in the frigid Antarctic waters. The lifeboats come equipped with engines, food for a week and all sorts of emergency equipment. So we all ran around with our life jackets on looking a lot like big orange "Gumbys." We found our muster stations and peered, a bit apprehensively, into the open hatch of the lifeboat. I'd rather not experience one first hand in the southern ocean.

After the Captain's reception and dinner, I crawled gratefully into bed. We will continue down the Beagle Channel, and by 12 midnight we'll be on the Drake. I wonder how it will be.