Departure show for Nansen

Showtime as the 2013 Nansen Memorial Expedition prepared for takeoff from Arkhangelsk

ARKHANGELSK: Nothing’s like a farewell party in Russia. So also when the Pomor Capital says “bon voyage” for the Nansen Memorial Expedition that now sails towards Siberia.


The passenger port by the banks of the Dvina River was a strange sight. Not too much reminded about a departure to the High North. And certainly very different from when Fridtjof Nansen and Jonas Lied set sail for Siberia with their cargo steamer “Correct” a hundred years ago.

Today they were all there. University rector, diplomats, city- and oblast officials, media, professors, artists and children. And we, the members of the 2013 Nansen expedition. After a day’s seminar, and yes; we are talking indoor seminar with nearly 30 degrees Celsius and bright sun outdoor, we were just very ready for boarding the boat and sail north. 

No need to say that the seminar at the Northern Federal Arctic University was devoted to Fridtjof Nansen. Slightly flavored with modern politics. Statements about the historic good relations between Norway and Russian in the north came as frequent as vodka shots in a late night private party.  Well known Moscow diplomat Anton Vasilev said three times during his 10 minute speech that there are “no problems in Arctic that can’t be solved” in between the Arctic nations. Vasilev is Russia’s Ambassador to the Arctic Council.

Norway’s top diplomat to Russia during the last two decades, Øyvind Nordsletten, said Norway is the only bordering nation that Russia has never been in war with. He is right. The north is an arena for friendship, not conflicts. Develop trade based on friendship and trust was also the trademark of Jonas Lied when he established his Siberian Company. He believed the company would get an extra boost in marketing by bringing Fridtjof Nansen on the voyage to Siberia in August 1913.

Fridtjof Nansen is still today one of the most famous Norwegians in Russia. Even more than Morten Harket and Ole Einar Bjørndalen. Therefore, the Nansen Memorial Expedition gets the publicity like today in Arkhangelsk. TV-cameras crowded the pier before departure.

We are some 40 members onboard as we sail the Northern Dvina river towards the White Sea on this first day of the expedition. “Professor Molchanov” is well suited for Arctic waters. Built in Turku in 1982, she has the ice-class needed. In addition, and in difference to the crew onboard Nansen and Lied’s vessel “Correct”, the crew has 30 years’ experience in Arctic navigation. Earlier this summer, “Professor Molchanov” sailed for the second year in a row hosting the Floating Arctic University, a great way for Arkhangelsk students to explore Russia’s European Arctic Islands of Franz Josef’s Land and Novaya Zemlya.

The Northern Dvina is the largest river in the Barents Region, flowing all the way from the Vologda region in the south.

From Arkhangelsk it takes 2-3 hours to sail out the delta to the open White Sea. Unfortunate, the river is heavily polluted following the development of the pulp- and paper industry from Kotlas in the south to Novodvinsk in the north. Signs are put up along the embankment telling locals not to swim. On a day like this, with 30 degrees Celsius, not everyone care. Children are jumping into the river with great fun all along as we sail.

While our captain navigated through the main stream of the river delta, we could explore the fascinating mixture between harbors, timber industry, small villages and fabulous nature. Tall grasses and rushes bordered the waterways which wended their way along the marshy areas of the Dvina River delta. Here are willows and alders and birds like red-throated diver, hooded crow, snipe, honey buzzard and common sandpiper.

In the late evening “Professor Molchanov” sailed into the White Sea, the smallest and warmest of all Arctic Oceans. 

Now, the Arctic expedition is for real.