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Pole to Pole

Day 8: Longyearbyen to Tromsø

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleI put this to the captain, Stein Biølgerud, who smiles quietly to himself in a not very encouraging way. He explains to me that the Norsel has an exceptional draught of 8 metres (26 feet) which means that when fully loaded most of the hull is beneath the water and much more susceptible to rolling and pitching.

'And are we fully loaded at the moment?'

His smile widens. 'Oh, yes.'

The good news is that the hull is composed of 28-millimetre-thick steel plates.

'The highest ice class,' he continues encouragingly. 'We can move through sixty centimetres of solid ice.'

'So we'll be safe in the ice?'

'Oh yes. Unless of course we have too much ice on the super-structure. Then the ship can topple over.'

Credit for the redoubtably solid hull of the Norsel must go to Hitler's shipyards, for it was constructed in Germany in 1943, but left unfinished until the Norwegians took it over in 1947. Since then it has seen service as a seal catcher, scallop trawler and expedition vessel.

There is a crew of seven. The captain, first mate, chief engineer, cook and three deckhands. At the moment they are supervising the unloading of what seems like a year's supply of toilet rolls. This uncharismatic little ship is a lifeline up here. The captain recalls arriving late one year with a supply of beer on board.

'They only had seventeen cans left on the island. There were guys waiting on the jetty.'
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 8
  • Country/sea: Norway
  • Place: Longyearbyen
  • Book page no: 24

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