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1) Arctic Games


1) Arctic Games

Story telling is labor intensive - typing, or writing these accounts take time, and especially if non-fiction, getting the facts straight after many years, and presenting them in proper fashion, not easy for me. I am a stickler for detail, and sometimes that detracts from the account.
Fortunately, for me, I was in a profession that offered lots of adventure, though most of the time I thought of it as a mis-spent life.
As a seaman working for the Government in Oceanographic Research, I had the added intrique of way-out global areas such as the Arctic, and Antarctic...places off the beaten path for the mariners engaged in commerce. The time in history spent at these places also contributed to the adventure, and suspense...the "Cold War" era. This era put us into
oceanographic research in the interest of national defense big time, and any endeavour in that context becomes instantly "classified" - "Top Secret".
As a seaman, or captain of any vessel engaged in such work, little was known of the technical aspects of what was entailed, but knowledge of the areas was enough to demand us being "cleared" for it. Our job was to transport the scientists, and technicians, and their equipment to specific areas, the same for our counterparts on the "other" side. This story deals with a contest between me, and the skipper of a Russian Icebreaker, who's job it was to shadow us, and report back to his headquarters our activities. This was nothing new with me, nor probably with him, and we both understood each other's part in the scheme of things... the only difference being he had a "Commissar" breathing down his neck, and I hadn't.
This surveillance ship - ice breaker, picked us up on our way to our "op-area", which today we know he had advanced info of from our own citizens recently uncovered. Nevertheless, he still didn't have all the scoop on what we were doing as far north as a ship like mine could go without an ice breaker, or breakers. In essence, the top of the Greenland Sea in summer. Weather wise, a lovely place...sunny most of the time, with no storms hardly, the nearest "civilization" being a few hundred miles away in an outpost on Svalbard ( owned by Norway, but manned by Russians on contract ) called Longyearsbyen. It was at one time a coal mining town, but now used for Arctic research. With several hundred in population, there was a hospital. For the reason of there being a hospital there, I kept the place always in the back of my mind, having no medical facilities to speak of of my own. We had no doctor, nor nurse aboard, but I knew our shadow, the ice breaker, which was quite large...did. For this reason I had mixed emmotions about him being with us.
He took up position upon redezvousing with us, off our starboard quarter, about three-hundred yards...a clear view for him right into the technicians spaces where the devices we deployed were assembled.
Whether stopped, or steaming, he was always there, his big spy-glasses, and binoculars trained precisely. Sometimes while dead in the water, he would come in very close, close enough for hailing, or speaking. With a cordial wave, he would greet us. I'd wave back, acknowledging, and smiling.
I could see him smiling back when I did. He knew all about me personally...my family, history etc. I learned this from our "people" who knew who knew what about us. I couldn't care less, and was rather flattered by that. I didn't particularly care about his biographical data, but did have "intelligence" about his ship, and this showed me that I wasn't going to "shake" him off by trying to out run him.
We had devices we had to deploy, and couldn't while he was around.
He could inspect the gear on deck all he wanted, and all he'd see was miles of cable, and floatation spheres. It was where we planted these devices that was critical to him...and us. Days went by as we assembled our gear.
I had a routine of my own, taking a "nooner" everyday after lunch. The hour or so snooze helped break up the day, and always put me in a good mood afterwards...and on one particular day, a playful mood.
As always, I'd repair to the bridge after my snooze for a cup of coffee, and a chat with the watch officer, and helsman, and check the weather, etc. On this particular day, my friend was at his usual station off the starboard quarter. It was a lovely day, sunny, warm, calm...as usual.
Our main engines were shut-down, but I had the "trolling" engines running.
Small diesel of 600 HP, coupled into the main shafts. We were twin-screw, controlable pitch, and twin ruddered. These auxiliaries could drive the ship at five, or six knots, and "twist" the ship easily in good weather.
We didn't have anything in the water because of our friend, and also we hadn't finished assembling it, so after I poured my coffee, and assessed his position, and distance from us, I flipped the starboard throttle handle full ahead, and the port full astern, and gave 'er hard-left rudder.
Slowly we started to twist, or turn in our own distance to port. Remember, these were the small diesels, so we didn't zip around, but turned slowly.
Vrooooom, we could hear,  and a big puff of black diesel smoke we could see come up out of the breakers stack. A bit later alot of propellor wash from his stern, as he positions himself to resume his spying position.
He was about two, or three-hundred yards off now, doing about ten knots in a circle, trying to maintain this position, as we casually, without a strain, continued in our tight little "twist". After a complete circle, I stopped the engines, and settled down long enough for him to catch up, and do the same...stopping his engines, and getting his sights lined up on our labratory.
By this time, after informing our scientists, and letting the rest of the crew know what I was playing at, our decks were lined with spectators, as was the decks of the breaker, what with the sudden rumbling of their engines trying to keep up.
I poured another cup of coffee, and let a few minutes pass, and then reversed our twist. Vrooooom...again, more black smoke, and great aggitation of water, as the breaker gets underway to play this silly game.
They had to hear the laughing from our vessel to theirs as we kept ahead of them...at least see it. I did two complete turns this time, and then finally ended the game. This time, when he caught up, he came right up alongside within a few hundred feet, and he - the skipper, shaking his fist, jovially yelled over: "I'll get you Cap'n Friberg.' He did know my name!
All I could do was laugh back, raise my coffee cup, and wave a good bye as I left the bridge, and he returned to his.
Fun, and games were now over. We did not come thousands of miles for nothing, and we had to deploy our array, and that had to be done in secret. Using the term "intelligence" in the loosest of forms, this was just that - an intelligence gathering device. Any research, or data collection in the interest of national defense is classified as such, that is why this ship was one of many of the "intelligence" gathering ships, or as some people called them "spy ships". Though the instrument itself wasn't anything you could'nt put together yourself for a half-million smackers, it's purpose, and location was. It would be a simple task for the breaker, which like our breakers, to retrieve the array. Used not only for icebreaking, most breakers are fitted-out for oceanography, having "A" frames, and winches for such.
We had to shake this guy. On occasion we get a snow-squall, or light fog, or mist, but radar made short work of that. We weren't far from the ice-fields, on occasion being right up to them. I put the ships noses ( she was a catamaran ) into the ice one time for a photo op. The ice was hummocked - piled up, and stood as high as the bridge, which indicates there was seven times that height under water. There was no way we could go into the ice, even the thinnest passing between the hulls, and into our delicate controllable propellors. The unbroken, or close pack ice in this area at this time was from four to five feet thick, no problem for our friend, but it's not always so cut, and dry with just close-pack. The wind piles layer upon layer, and you wind up with mini-icebergs...a danger to even an icebreaker...at full speed.
Aha! Captains of ships upon oceans, and seas of the world, unlike "captains" of other things, become part of their charge through endless months away from the "head office". Through ages of tradition, and with no one to turn to, they develope a unique feeling for the ship, actually being "married" to it. You know all it's idiosyncrasies, it's weaknesses, and capabilities. No one on board can better devise a scheme using the ship as an extension of one's self other than her master. Assaying our position in relation to the ice fields, I got underway, proceeding to a point about an hours run out away from the ice, my shadow diligently following in her appointed slot...about 200 yards off the starboard quarter. No doubt, having assumed we finished putting our array together, and were heading out to deploy it. I had to clue the scientists, and my people of my plan...I didn't want any heart-attacks. I also needed all I could from the engine room, and I had the right Chief Engineer for that. I had, when I first picked up my "escort", and steaming at fifteen, or so knots, with him "back there", turned hard-right, making a circle back at him...just squeezing between his track, and my old one. I guess at that point he labled me "nuts", and kept his distance. I was again about to confirm his beliefs. Arriving at my randome point, I verred off to port - away from his track, and made a one-eighty.
"Okay Evert...gimmee all she'll take," I told Evert Boyd - Chief Engineer, over the phone. The chief then, with his jewelers screw driver, put maximum pitch on both propellors by adjusting the "pot" on the printed-circuit board down in the Engine Operating Station. The ship was rated at 5700 HP, but because the builders put in the wrong reduction gears. She had 7200 HP, so we had lots of "diesel" to spare. The chief over-rode the "default" pitch, giving us what we should have had for speed, which was near 17 knots. The ship was brand-new. She hadn't been "bastardized" yet by the sponsors, or naval artichokes...she could move! Yes...she could move, but so could our shadow, and that's what I had been hoping. Now to see if I had a good handle on my "extension".
An hour almost up, complacency in place...on the breaker anyways, the ice field getting closer...one mile, one-half mile, my eye on the radar, the ice, and the clock. A look back, and unbelievably my escort is right on station, and looking even closer. It was evident he wasn't worried about the ice looming ahead...but he wasn't thinking...just what I was hoping.
One quarter mile...five-hundred-yards...seventeen knots, calm as glass, visibility unlimited...the ice seemingly as harmless, and white as whipped cream. Six hundred feet to go....
"Full astern port, hard left rudder.' I ordered. The computers reversed the pitch on the port wheel, the revs remaining the same, the rudders slamming over to port, the ship hunckering down, and throwing her ass off to starboard, and the ice, very ominous, and close now, passing harmlessy down the starboard side about fifty-yards off.
BOOM. Crash. Screech...four thousand tons of icebreaker shot into the ice, it's ice-strengthened bow, and bottom shredding as it collided with the unexpected hummocked ice. Going, going, going another mile, or more deep into the pack. Ice flying as she went, a pathetic-heart-wrenching scene.
"Stop the port. Full ahead port, steady as she goes.' I ordered.
We never saw that ship again. We planted our things in secret, and took off for port. On departure for more work in the same area we picked up another surveillance ship...the high speed trawler type, but he wasn't any fun...he stayed too far away from us.


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