Expedition 2019 Diaries

Day 20. The Captain

Day 20. The Captain

I wish I could take a sea wave as a souvenir …

I have been waiting for this interview for two years when the second mate came up to me and said: “The captain calls you to the bridge”. I try to guess what could have happened. I climb the stairs and see Sergei Viktorovich in the cabin.

- Did you call me?
- Yes. Come in ten minutes.
- What for?
- To ask questions.
- You are ready for an interview?
- Well, yes, I will answer you all at once.

It turned out that my colleague Elvira Serga, a correspondent for the TV21 channel in Murmansk, had persuaded Sergey Viktorovich to be interviewed. And I was lucky to ask my questions too.

- Why did I choose the sea? At first I wanted romance. After the first, second voyage, I understood that this is just ordinary work.

Sergey Viktorovich has been a captain for two years, and it is his sixth expedition on Professor Molchanov. He had occupied various positions, including the chief officer.

When asked if he experienced any fear in the seven-grade storm, he answers:

- We all have fear. But in this case it was a warm-up, not even a storm. It was much worse that we could have got blocked in the ice. You were sleeping and did not see it. Yes, it was quiet there, it was peaceful, there was no wind and no rolling, but the ice began to accumulate around us. What did we do? We turned back and tried to get out. Experience and intuition are great when they go together.

This ice would be of no danger for an icebreaker, but not for an ice-class vessel. You often have to rely on your intuition and good luck. The flow we got in was not compact, so we could break the ice. If it were consolidated ice, we would be able to break it only 20 centimeters thick. After that night, we spoke with the captain about emergency situations. When does the ship give the SOS signal? Had Sergey Viktorovich ever received such a signal on Professor Molchanov?

- Thank God, such situations have never happened.

- Why “thank God”?

- People are alive, no one is in distress.

- How do you keep the distance with the crew?

- There is no need to keep the distance. You just treat people like yourself. I demand from others as from myself.

- Are you as strict to yourself as to the others?

- Yes.

- Are you an adventurer?

- It is an interesting question. It depends on what do you call "adventurism"?

- Well, yes, it is hard to explain. Let's say adventurism is when you realize that there will be surprises, that it is impossible to foresee everything, but you still take risks. Some people feel better on land, where everything is simple.

- On land, life is unpredictable, too. Anything can happen at any moment. A brick can fall on your head just as you walk in the streets. I believe that every person is under stress all the time.

- How do you relieve stress?

- If I have time and chance to rest, if nobody disturbs me on weekends, I go to the forest, away from everything.

- For a long time?

- No, as a rule, a day or two is enough. You can go to the dacha, do some physical work.

- I often ask people what they have to sacrifice for the sake of their work. What is your sacrifice?

- All seamen, of course, have to give up something. I could hardly see my children.

- If you had the opportunity to see them more often but not go to the sea, what would you have done?

- In the 90s only seafarers were paid, we had to survive.

- If you were not a seaman, what would you do?

- I think I would be a soldier. I used to be a soldier but had to interrupt my contract due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and absence of any future.

- Do you believe in fate?

- Partly.

- Did you have any signs from destiny?

- Each person has. Signs are given to us from above but we are not always able to understand them. It is only later that we understand that obstacles were a sign to take another route, an easier one. But people are stubborn by nature.

- Are you stubborn?

- Yes.

- For whom is there no place in the sea?

- Those who search for profit, who want to gain money by any means. Or those who are irresponsible and never think about the consequences of their actions.

- Once again about romance. Is the sea not romance?

- This is romance for anyone, and for you too. When you went on the first expedition, you were happy: how good, how beautiful, especially when you anticipated the expedition. After the first time, you felt that...

- It was no longer interesting.

- Yes, romance is already over, work routine has begun. And you in your job are not responsible for anything. Compare it with my responsibility for the lives of the crew and expedition members. 

- Do you remember, last year we could not disembark on Vaigach island?..

- There is always risk, in the sea or on land. But it must be reasonable and justified. If it is minimal and can be managed by coordinated actions of the crew, then you can take the risk. But if the risk increases, if it is above 30 percent, then it is worth thinking twice whether it is worth it at all. We did not land at the polar station because there were a lot of polar bears there. And ice conditions near the village of Varnek were really dangerous and getting worse. Would the motorboats be able to sail immediately back in the ice? The risk was above 50 percent. But we landed last year on Cape Kanin Nos, for the first time in all expeditions. The shore is very dangerous there.

- But that night landing was extremely beautiful...

- Beautiful, yes, but, to be honest, I would not want to repeat it.

- How many hours a night do you sleep on board?

- It is difficult to say, sometimes eight hours, sometimes three. But, as a rule, in intervals, two or three hours of sleep, then you wake up to check if everything is OK, and again you sleep two or three hours. This night I heard that the engine was not working properly. I woke up, ran to see what was wrong. But just the wave had increased and the rolling as well, so the load on the engine grew bigger. This change frightened me a little.

- What is professor Molchanov for you?

- When I first stepped on board in 2013, I said after the first flight that either I will arrange everything on board, or it will kill me.

- And so?

- We are working. The crew takes care of the vessel, we keep it in good working condition. But there is still a lot to do.

- You took on board two girls who study to be navigators. Would you work under the supervision of a female skipper?

- I do not see any difference if you are supervised by a man or a woman. If this person is a professional, why not? And if there is no professionalism, there will always be a conflict because we would have different opinions on what to do in this or that situation.

- Do you have a favorite phrase, a life credo or something?

- Yes. "He who has seen the sea with his own eyes and not on the pictures does not think of romance."

- Are not you tired of the sea?

- To tell you the truth, I am. I could sail not on a research vessel, but, for example, on a merchant or river ship. It would be much easier, but there is no such extreme. There are advantages and disadvantages.

- What is the advantage here?

- Everything is unpredictable.

- So you're an adventurer.

- Well, yes, in theory. I sometimes have to change my decisions three times. And I need to think everything over to make the right decision, but this is not always the case.

- What do you wish expedition, which will start on July 16?

- Let them prepare and get ready for some rolling.

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Updated 26.08.2019