Cover Photo Series: Arctic Ice

Flying Fish is the biannual journal of the Ocean Cruising Club, an international organization of ocean sailors, based in the UK. It’s a wonderful group of people, self-described (on the OCC website) as sharing a “combination of accomplishment, experience, idealism, eccentricity, generosity and humility.”

I’ve contributed frequently to the journal since we joined the OCC and we’ve been honored to have our photographs on the covers of three issues.

This photograph is from a memorable day: the day we reached the polar pack ice in the Arctic Ocean. It was an eerily calm day, the sea glassy, with only the smallest ripples from the smallest zephyrs to ruffle the water’s surface. After weeks of gale-force wind, it felt as if the world was holding its breath. (As indeed it was: the gales began again the following day.)

The weeks of gale-force wind had also built up a significant swell, so that the sea was heaving in long, slow movements beneath its glassy surface. As we approached the icecap, we could even hear that swell breaking against the solid ice.

Between the pack ice and the open sea, there was, of course, a wide swath of ocean peppered with ice floes. It began with widely spaced bits of brash ice, and as we moved further north the chunks of ice grew in both concentration and size. Before it got too thick – while it was still relatively easy to maneuver Celeste amid the floating ice bits – we lowered our little dinghy so that we could take photographs of Celeste in this beautiful Arctic seascape.

We both love the challenge (and hopefully the results!) of taking “under-over” (or “split”) shots (part below the water, part above). And on this day, the calm ocean had given us the perfect opportunity to try for a few. It was a photographer’s gift: an under-over in the Arctic ice would be a special shot indeed.

Usually one captures split shots while actually in the water, swimming. It would be possible to do that in the below-freezing temperatures (saltwater freezes at a lower temperature than fresh water) of the Arctic Ocean, in a dry-suit, but that’s not how we managed this one. Instead this shot was taken simply by carefully holding the camera (with its underwater housing and dome port) in the water beside the dinghy. It was a gamble, because we couldn’t look through the viewfinder, but several images came out well.

One of these, a horizontal shot that captured equal parts above and below the water, was honored with a photography award from Boating Writers International, after it appeared as a double-page spread in Cruising World magazine.

Another, the vertical shot at the top of this post, with more of the image featuring the boat and the ice above the surface, ended up on the cover of Flying Fish. You can just glimpse the cold, dark, greenish water along the bottom edge of the image, with a bit of the ice visible. Because of the perspective, the ice above the surface seems to tower above the boat in giant white crystals. In fact this was a small piece of ice, but it’s no less beautiful for being small. For me, this image distills that day, between the oily smooth sea, the muted colors that speak so well to the biting cold, and the otherworldly feeling of being surrounded by Arctic sea-ice.

10 thoughts on “Cover Photo Series: Arctic Ice

  1. I will forever be in awe of the mixed feelings your photos invoke. A combinations of “oh, hell yeah!” with equal part “awe hell, no way!!”…..I love them!

  2. Ellen, these are truly remarkable shots on a truly remarkable voyage. Stunning.

  3. I am still in awe of your audacity with tackling this trip! There is cruising, and then there is the trail blazing unique!

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