The Big White Nothing

"We saw a white infinite nothing", Industrial photographers Slava Schoot and Maxim Shapovalov about there journey to the Arctic. What is the best time to travel along the Northern Sea Route, where it is best to wait out the storm, which animals can be seen in the Russian Arctic - the story told by known industrial photographers Slava Schoot and Maxim Shapovalov. They sailed along the NSR on one of the "Norilsk Nickel" ships.

 In the Kara Sea

In the Kara Sea

Slava Schoot:

Spring is the best time to travel by the Northern Sea Route. In summer, it's hot and besides open water there is not much to see. In winter there is the polar night. Fall of often stormy and dangerous. In the spring you can see the northern lights. Nature awakes - you can meet seals, polar bears, and myriad of birds. Day changes in to the night, so sunrises and sunsets are amazing. In the summer and in the winter time of the day doesn't rally change.

We stepped on to a vessel, so called double acting ship. It’s a type of icebreaker designed to run ahead in open water and thin ice, but turn around and proceed astern (backwards) in heavy ice conditions. We sailed the Northern Sea Route in the end of April - right after the reindeer herder’s festival.

 At port of Dudinka

At port of Dudinka

Upon completion of our photo assignment in village of Torch, snowstorm stroke and it was impossible to fly out. We had to persuade the local authorities to spear us TREKOL (all-terrain vehicle). After a rough six-hour drive through tundra in complete blizzard we got to the port. A ship has sailed after an hour after our arrival.

We did not have any other duties on the ship, but photography. We were shown almost the entire ship - from the engine room up to the galley. There was a sauna with the swimming pool, which is filled with seawater. So we swam in the Yenisei, White, Kara and Barents Seas. We have seen how to manage the ship as it breaks the ice. We were surprised that they can manage by one person. On watch has four remote controls, by which the duty may adjust the course and steer through the ice. The ship is equipped with four diesel engines. Their capacity is sufficient to provide enough energy to supply city of Norilsk.

 Atomic Icebreaker "Vaigach".

Atomic Icebreaker "Vaigach".

Captain stopped the ship twice to let us out on the ice to take pictures. According to the captain, for the company "Norilsk Nickel", all these ships are "like a truck, delivering product. Our main priority is to bring the goods to the port. Later or earlier - is not so important, important is that the goods should reach their destination."

We spotted some seals and polar bears. Polar bear is the most dangerous animal in the Arctic. When we left the ship, armed members of the team accompanied us. Another risk factor – ice cracks. We were arguing among themselves, Maxim more risky, he offered to continue taking pictures and I replied: "this image does not worth our lives!"

 Through the ice

Through the ice

Maxim Shapovalov:

The most interesting part of the voyage was passing Dixon, one legendary port. All Arctic expedition started from there. Roald Amundsen, Nikifor Begichev and all known polar explorers visited this old arctic village. As of now, there are more statues of pioneers than living men. Once it was possible to fly to Dixon on the plane directly from Moscow. Dixon - the only port in the Kara Sea, where it is possible to repair an icebreaker. The port is inextricably linked with the Russian nuclear fleet.

Another memorable voyage was along the Yenisei River. On it’s shores you can find about a dozen villages. Our ship made a few stops to unload goods to local residents in exchange for arctic salmon and venison. 

 on Enysey River

on Enysey River

Once we got into the storm. It was not very strong, but it was still scary. It lasted all night long. DAS icebreaking ship is poorly prepared for stormy weather due to spoon-like design. We took refuge in a swimming pool - hiding in the water neutralize rocking of the ship. We were astonished by the open space – it appears as white infinite nothingness. Sometimes the ridges in the spring sunshine acquire azure color. It almost looked like Caribbean Sea.

A great impression on us made a meeting with the icebreaker "Vaigach" (atomic icebreaker). He walked a collision course. We moved to the side and missed it. There was a feeling that we are all in out of space - there was nothing around, only two of our ship, two capsules in the darkness. Only the crackle of breaking ice and vibration of the ship remained real. 

 Storm in Kara Sea

Storm in Kara Sea

Our trip took six days, which was normal for this time of year. In heavy ice conditions it may last up to ten days.