The Russian icebreaker known as the 50 Let Pobedy only makes five trips to the North Pole each summer. Photo by Cynthia Drescher
Two weeks of no WiFi, but plenty polar bears.
Casting off the lines and setting sail from the nuclear icebreaker port in Murmansk, Russia, the 50 лет Победы, or 50 Let Pobedy, began its departure with a peculiar theme song; a loudspeaker system at the dock blared a ceremonial Soviet march as we pulled away and pointed north, passing the skeletal hulks of decommissioned icebreakers while heading up and out of the Kola Bay fjord and into the Barents Sea toward the North Pole.
The ship entered service in 2007 and hasn’t had a rest since. For only five voyages over the months of June, July, and August, the world's most powerful nuclear ice breaker pauses its grueling schedule of escorting cargo and military ships through the ice of the Northwest Passage to make room for 150 tourists. My trip with Canada-based Quark Expeditions included small groups and solo travelers, teenagers and octogenarians, from the U.S., England, Russia, China, Japan, Germany, Belgium, and Australia. The logistics to make the trip happen alone sound out of this world: $30,000 price tag, a charter flight, and a Soviet helicopter ride.
The world's most powerful nuclear icebreaker pauses to shuttle tourists. Photo by Cynthia Drescher
Onboard, I felt keenly aware of how remote we were. There was no WiFi, and no cell or data service, save for emergency message communications. For the first time in many years, I kept a written journal. For the first time ever, I experienced continuous daylight. Any hour was open for activities, and we’d scramble out of bed for an aerial sightseeing flight in the ship's helicopter or a trip ashore in Franz Josef Land to visit an abandoned research station. On the ship's bow, I spied a mother polar bear and her two playful cubs. On the bridge, the captain pointed out a fog rainbow.