Through the Eyes of an Ice Navigator
The nature was,
perhaps, always beautiful with its blend of diversified
geographical features – the vast expanse of ocean, the
endless chasm of seabed, the insurmountable mountain peak,
the topsy turvy valleys, chilly hot desert or milky white
ice. It is we unfortunates who can’t feel it because either
our senses have gone numb or because our brain is pre-occupied
and shielded with the electronic image of the present world
transmitted through our eyes when they are open and a photocopy
of above even when they are closed. That is why perhaps the
word ‘perhaps’ serves as the rightly used preposition.
Having said that,
blessed are those opportunes who get an opportunity to feel the
nature from the core of their heart, from the deepest of their senses
and to the wildest of their imaginations. Blessed are we seafarers.
But, no pleasure in life comes unaccompanied by the struggles.
Navigating in ice is one such example. The very first sight
of ice brings with itself entire gamut of feelings, excitement for
the debutants, warning for the experienced, romance for the lovebirds,
thrill for the flamboyant, fear for few but hope for the optimists.
Navigating a ship in ice is not easy. Conditions are tough
out there. Air temperature may range anywhere from zero to minus
forty degrees. The whole sea is covered with a thick layer of ice
and no water is seen anywhere. In such cases, continuous monitoring
and care needs to be taken for long hours. Engines have to be on
continuous maneuvering. Speed has to be adjusted depending upon
the ice thickness and type – full ahead for soupy layer of ice giving
a matt appearance called grease ice, half ahead for flat floating
pieces known as ice cakes and maybe slow ahead for circular pieces
of ice with raised rims termed as pancakes. No empirical formula,
as such. It has to be the discretion of captain based on experience
and recommendations. In such situations, ice radar helps but not
all ships are equipped with such equipments.
lookouts may have to be posted. And yet, the possibility of
getting stuck in ice more often than not can’t be neglected.
If a layman were to see this, it would be ridiculous for him
to see how a small ice breaker moves so freely in ice compared
to a ten times larger vessel stranded for help. It looks such
an easy job when the icebreaker passes the ship at very close
range breaking the ice underneath and causing the ice on shipside
to drift towards the space created thus clearing the ship’s
Furthermore, in temperatures
below minus twenty degrees, life becomes pathetic for the mooring
gangs posted at their respective stations with a hope that the ship
berths quickly. But to their bad luck, it sometimes takes more than
an hour to close that final ten metres separation between the vessel
and the berth even after assisted by three tugs and an ice breaker
which is continuously on its toes to avoid any ice formation and
re-formation in the path of the vessel.
Among the other problems
faced by seafarers are cargo and security watches for long periods
of time in unsheltered areas, sometimes uninterrupted by a break.
Conditions become even worse if it is windy. Under such situations,
while continuous walking to keep up the body heat poses a slip and
trip hazard, standing idly may decrease the body’s resistance. It
becomes very difficult to maintain the highest safety standards
when the brain becomes semi paralyzed in its thoughts, hand becomes
numb and eyes blue.
The very thought of this might seem scary to even the most intrepid
seafarer of all times. But tough, as it may seem to every other
human being, isn’t the case really for these seamen who have adapted
themselves to these conditions to the extent that they have become
a part of the natural ecological cycle. The seafarers are, indeed,
one of the most gallant and resolute brand of creature ever produced
by the Mother Nature.
Contributing Author: Rohit
Lal, 2nd officer, merchant
navy, working on oil tankers, part time writer.