If you must go down to the sea again, the lonely sea and the sky,—I am thinking specifically of the Arctic Ocean with its particular aspect of lonely sea and sky,—you will need more than a tall ship and a star to steer her by. In fact, you probably don’t want a tall ship at all, as Sir John Franklin and many others discovered. It’s one thing to go coasting along the edges of that sea or among the passages between islands, as Roald Amundsen did for example, and the St. Roch, and many others, and quite another to chance your seamanship upon the broad reaches of said ocean where land is only a distant memory. For that you need a tubby kind of specially reinforced ship like the Fram, of one Fridjof Nansen. A modern icebreaker will do too.
We are setting out to explore, as best we can from our vantage ground, the country we will call, for brevity’s sake, Northcapia, a.k.a. the North Circumpolar Region, that part of the Earth lying north of 55° north latitude, a.k.a. the Fifty-Five. None of the governmental sectors we have previously identified matters if you are north of the Eighty-Five, where our minutely conscientious survey of the country begins, in that expanse of snow and ice where the strange device on your banner should be “Latior!”, rather “Excelsior!”. Judging by historical accounts, however, you are equally likely to have left any maidens behind, the more fool you.
We intend to explore Northcapia by a method we call “girdling”, or “pucking”, which takes its inspiration from Shakespeare’s puck Robin Goodfellow and his promise to “put a girdle round the earth in forty minutes”. We will do it in modest bites of words. Once we strike land at Kaffeklubben Island in the Eighty-Three (that is, between 82.96 and 83.95 degrees north latitude), and especially when we begin to encounter permanent human habitations, we will need to girdle each puck several times to pick up everything of interest. The first seven girdles are both simpler and more complicated, due to the terrain, which is not terrain at all, of course, but a shifting mosaic of aquain, nixain, and glaciain which we will call ‘ocearcticain’, and which scientists for some reason call the ‘cryosphere’. Let there be no crying in the cryosphere when we put out to see the sea.
Most people nowadays who have any opportunity to observe the expanses of ocearcticain at all do so from the air and indeed, flying over them, even without landing (or icing, as it should be termed) has become an accepted form of exploration. Those desiring more intimate acquaintance can select one of two modes: trekking, or drifting.
Trekking usually has some objective in mind: to reach the North Pole, for example, located by definition smack in the precise centre of Northcapia, or the North Magnetic Pole, now wandering through the Eighty Six or thereabouts, or the North Pole of Inaccessibility, apparently now officially fixed in the Eighty-Five, although some volcano in the high latitudes supposedly could someday change that. It doesn’t matter very much in any case. The point of trekking is to choose an objective and trek to it, or as close as you can get. Given the nature of the ocearcticain even those who don’t get to it leave their footprints honourably on the pages of history.
Drifting is usually pursued for the purpose of taking scientific observations, and here the Soviets, later the Russians, excel, although the inventor of the sport was a Norwegian, Fridjof Nansen. He “confirmed the existence of the Transpolar Drift and discovered that the Polar Basin was deep,” according to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, whom we may trust to get their facts right. Somebody else discovered the Beaufort Gyre, confirming the existence of poetry, even in the deep cryosphere of the Arctic Ocean itself, not to mention visual art showing interesting patterns of arrows, as the picture below sets out to show. As for the poetry:
O the seas of the world are seven, they say, all of them large and deep;
To tell their stories one by one would put you, no doubt, to sleep;
But there’s one that won’t, and I’ll tell it you, as I’ve been so often urged,
About how I got caught in the Beaufort Gyre, and never again emerged.
Of the Arctic Vortex you may have heard, but it’s away up high
In the stratosphere, a lifeless place where only airplanes fly,
But here on ocearcticain, where the wind o’er the cryosphere streams,
The dreadful clutch of the Beaufort Gyre comes to haunt a sailor’s dreams.
And so on to its monotonous conclusion. The artist who created the following meant to convince us, it appears, that girdling comes naturally in Northcapia.