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In Sval­bard, the archipelago be­tween Nor­way and the North Pole, po­lar bears are so preva­lent and pose such a threat to hu­mans that it’s manda­tory for each shore party to carry a firearm. We watch from the safety of the 68-foot Nord­havn Mi­gra­tion one sun-drenched day as a sail­ing ves­sel makes an abrupt 180-de­gree turn. Through binoculars, we see the swim­ming po­lar bear the ves­sel is work­ing hard to avoid. ¶ I grab my cam­eras and, with two com­pan­ions, mo­tor out in the ten­der to fol­low the bear from a safe dis­tance. He pays lit­tle mind other than to glance over his shoul­der oc­ca­sion­ally at us with pro­found in­dif­fer­ence. Dog pad­dling, the bear makes his way to the far shore, shakes off in ca­nine fash­ion and am­bles up a rocky bluff to a snow field, where he promptly falls onto his back and rolls with all four paws reach­ing sky­ward. We’re so giddy that we nearly for­get he’s among the great­est of all apex preda­tors. ¶ Get­ting to this moment has been a mem­o­rable ad­ven­ture. I’ve made many ocean pas­sages, all too of­ten across un­friendly seas, but some­how this one is dif­fer­ent. Each time Mi­gra­tion’s bow digs into a trough, she feels as if she’s come to a stand­still, protest­ing the no­tion of go­ing any far­ther. I know ex­actly how she feels; I’m prone to sea­sick­ness, how­ever, I’ve made an un­easy truce with the mal­ady, learn­ing to live with it rather than fight it, while curs­ing those who are im­mune. This first leg, from Tromsø on Nor­way’s north­ern coast to the Sval­bard Archipelago, is a clear in­di­ca­tion that hos­til­i­ties have re­sumed. ¶ Af­ter 43 hours and 256 nautical miles un­der­way, we make land­fall at Bear Is­land, roughly the twothirds mark be­tween Nor­way and Sval­bard. The pas­sage is

char­ac­ter­ized by 8- to 12-foot waves with a mis­er­able short pe­riod, and a steady 25-knot re­frig­er­ated northerly on the nose. We seek shel­ter in a lee called Sørhamna (ham­nameans har­bor in Nor­we­gian, but this is lit­tle more than an in­den­ta­tion in a lee). I fol­low the lead of Mi­gra­tion’s own­ers, Ge­orge and Marci, along with their 12-year-old Gold­en­doo­dle — whose sea legs are bet­ter than mine — in tak­ing hot show­ers and eat­ing a meal for the first time in al­most two days. ¶ It’s foggy and cold, at 37 de­grees Fahren­heit. De­ter­mined to get some fresh air, we launch our smaller RIB and cruise the shore­line, mo­tor­ing along cliffs fes­tooned with nest­ing ful­mars and puffins. The wa­ter around us is rich with bob­bing birds. Some swim right up to us. ¶ A weather win­dow beck­ons, so we weigh an­chor and are un­der­way af­ter just a few hours. A full day of steam­ing brings us to Sørkap­pøya, an is­land just off Sval­bard’s south­ern­most shore. It’s a wel­come sight. Mer­ci­fully, the con­di­tions for this run were bet­ter, but the last few hours saw winds up to nearly 50 knots, with seas churn­ing and, at times, vis­i­bil­ity of just a few hun­dred yards in mist and spume. Waves broke over Mi­gra­tion’s bow and pelted the wind­screen. Now, in the lee of Sval­bard’s Vesle Svartku­ven penin­sula, con­di­tions have im­proved, but there’s no doubt that we are in the maw of the frozen north. ¶ Plan­ning for this voy­age was a year in the mak­ing, and dur­ing that time, with few ex­cep­tions, when I men­tioned to any­one my in­tended des­ti­na­tion, the in­vari­able first reaction was, “Where’s that?” quickly fol­lowed by, “Why would you want to go there?” ¶ To quote Ge­orge Mal­lory, be­cause it’s there. ¶ The po­lar ice pack is far­ther north than usual, and Ge­orge is mak­ing a run north to “the edge.” Us­ing a satel­lite ice re­port from the re­search sta­tion in Ny-Åle­sund, we es­tab­lish a way­point and be­gin our trek north. Six hours later, we are in what Bri­tish ex­plorer Henry Wors­ley called “the milk.” In all di­rec­tions, a pewter sky meets a slate-gray sea. We’ve gone off the chart, lit­er­ally; on our present head­ing, save the ice, there’s noth­ing be­tween us and Alaska ex­cept the pole. The mag­netic compass reads 335 de­grees, while the true head­ing is 44 de­grees — a vari­a­tion of a stag­ger­ing 69 de­grees, a func­tion of our prox­im­ity to the mag­netic north, rather than ge­o­graphic, pole. ¶ Eleven hours af­ter get­ting un­der­way, I’m be­gin­ning to won­der if this was worth it. We are eat­ing up valu­able time around the archipelago to see mile af­ter mile of fea­ture­less sea sur­face. ¶ Then we be­gin to en­counter ice. While ice is noth­ing new for Mi­gra­tion (she’s cruised amid it in New­found­land, Green­land and Ice­land), this is the po­lar ice cap. As the ice be­comes thicker, we find our­selves chang­ing course to search for leads that will take us north. Fi­nally, af­ter 13 hours, we reach a point where it’s deemed too risky to go on; get­ting be­set in the ice isn’t the kind of Shack­le­ton-es­que ad­ven­ture we’re in search of. ¶ I snap a photo of the GPS, 81°27.7, for proof. We are just 500 nautical miles from the pole. ¶ We drop the an­chor onto an ice floe, launch the drone for some aerial pho­tos, take a group shot on the fore­deck (be­cause it’s that much far­ther north) and then turn our bow south­ward. ¶ To the best of my knowl­edge, we are now the record hold­ers for the far­thest north pro­duc­tion mo­to­ry­acht voy­age.


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