Estonian ketch the Admiral Bellingshausen and her crew are starting preparations off the coast of Saaremaa, ahead of a planned voyage to the Arctic, starting later this month. The Bellingshausen had already visited Antarctica, arriving in early 2020, though a planned pole-to-pole voyage following that was stymied by the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in March last year.
The Bellingshausen's Captain, Priit Kuusk, told ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) Saturday that the present plans would see the ship depart Sillamäe on May 25 for the north, returning in September.
Kuusk and the crew had taken the vessel out for a shakedown, sailing her from Nasva harbor to Roomassaare harbor, both in Saaremaa, ahead of the main voyage.
Leader of the Arctic expedition, Tiit Pruuli, told AK that the journey would take in some of the points on the way, coronavirus permitting.
He said: "The places we can visit in these pandemic conditions are hopefully Spitsbergen, Greenland, Iceland, the small islands in between, such as Bear Island. And yes, hopefully we will have some quite long trips off the coast of Greenland."
The vessel is a 24-meter, Dutch-built ketch, which in summer 2019 set sail for Antarctica to mark the 200th anniversary (in 2020) of the discovery of the Antarctic ice shelf, by Saaremaa native Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen, at the time a Captain in the Imperial Russian Navy.
The voyage took several months, with the Admiral Bellingshausen arriving in time for President Kersti Kaljulaid's visit to the Antarctic continent in late January 2020.
While the journey north is considerably shorter when embarked upon from Estonia, the original plan was to go from pole-to-pole. However, the pandemic made calling in at port en route difficult, and the decision was made in late March 2020, while the Admiral Bellingshausen was nearing the equator, off the coast of Peru, to return home.
Captain Kuusk told AK that the ship was now ready, after nearly eight months berthed in Saaremaa, though the elapsed time means, in accordance with tradition, the protection of Neptune, the God of the Sea, needs to be applied for, he added.
"Naturally, we must not forget the protector of all our ships and sailors, Neptune. So, protect our ship, protect our people and grant us happiness on the seas!"
The time in dock was also used to give the vessel any maintenance work needed, though upon inspection, the Bellingshausen's metal hull was found to be in tip-top condition, Kuusk said.
Extra lights were needed due to the greater risk of icebergs in the region, at least towards the end of the voyage when the arctic sun will start to set, he said. At the same time, it will become clearer as the year wears on exactly what the vessel and its crew will be able to do in the northern waters – negotiating both the northwest and northeast passages were off the table for this year, Kuusk said.
Editor: Andrew Whyte