ABOARD CCGS AMUNDSEN—Vincent Gagnon, the Amundsen’ helmsman at the time, was the first to notice.
“Yes, it’s moving,” he said just after 5 o’clock.
The icebreaker’s engines had been running at full for almost an hour, starting up after the crew members and scientists spent a second three hours outside in the minus 29 degree temperature to finish perforating the ice around the part of the ship wedged tight in a floe.
Initially the propellers were running in forward gear, churning water up onto the ice beneath the ship’s hull and clearing the path behind of floating ice. Then Captain Lise Marchand switched to reverse and the floating Arctic research laboratory inched slowly backward.
Now the ship is again stuck and the same manoeuvre is being repeated.
In between, however, those on board were treated to a half-hour of ramming -- something novice icebreaker sailors known about only from movies like Pirates of the Caribbean.
In this case it wasn’t another ship being rammed but a tough pressure ridge that stretched to the far horizon horizontally in front of the ship. (The not-so-far and much more curved horizon to be scientifically precise with my clichés.)
With several assaults the ship probed the snow-topped ridge. Then it backed up a half-kilometre or so and charged ahead with all 15,000 horsepower. The Amundsen bucked over the ridge, came down clear on the other side, and stopped dead.
For all that sweat in drilling hundreds of holes and for the thousands and thousands of litres of fuel expended, we’d moved forward about a ship-length.
But we know now that we won’t be stuck here indefinitely, The ship can be moved by some combination of such devices as flooding the ice with warm water, shifting ballast or fuel between tanks and – in the extreme – transforming ice floes into Swiss cheese.
So the scientists met tonight to map out a campaign of experiments that will draw on their brain power as much as the last two days have drawn on muscle power.