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14 News MIKE FINCKEN is happy to


be home in Aberystwyth after a mind-blowing voyage to the Arctic. As part of Greenpeace’s Save


The Arctic campaign, Mike was skippering the icebreaker Arctic Sunrise. Herald readers may recall that Mike’s journey began at the end of May when he set out to sail the Arctic Sunrise through the Barents Sea to the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. This voyage turned out to be an eventful one that included one of the hairiest moments of Mike’s 30 year maritime career. While filming world famous pianist Ludovico Einaudi playing his Elegy For The Arctic on an ‘ice floe’, Mike suddenly had to deal with an incoming tsunami! Mike has sailed in the Arctic


before but never been this far north. The quirky sounding Longyearbyen, Svalbard’s principal town with a population a little over two thousand people, is at Latitude: 78°13’ N and longitude: 15°38’ E. It sits just one metre above sea level and was named after the American developer John Munro Longyear, who began mining coal on Svalbard in 1906 via his plainly named Arctic Coal Company. ‘Byen’ simply means ‘town’.


Kelvin Mason Aberystwyth Reporter kelvin.mason@herald.email


The 24 hour daylight threw Cap’n Mike for a while and he and his crew of more than 30 people had to make sure they monitored their working and sleeping hours carefully as their body clocks went into meltdown. The midnight sun is a wonder to behold, Mike told me, and perfect for photographing the dramatic scenery, spectacular ice and seascapes. Much of the Arctic Sunrise’s


mission on this trip was to highlight the damage done by the fishing industry’s practice of bottom trawling. To this end they were equipped with cameras that could film at up to 600 metres deep and a large, remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV). Their film footage shows that where bottom trawling has taken place it is, in Mike’s word, ‘like a desert on the sea bottom. By comparison unfished areas are abundant with life and beautiful cold water corals’. At one point, the crew also


undertook a beach clean-up to highlight the amount of debris, particularly plastics, which is left behind by the fishing industry.


Because it was relatively sheltered, the beach they chose was on Prins Karls Forland. Mike reports that all the beaches in the area are littered with torn sections of nets from bottom trawling, plastic buoys, the steel weights used to weigh the nets down, plus secondary microplastics, which are microscopic plastic fragments derived from the breakdown of larger plastic debris. After the clean- up, Mike posed for a photograph with some of the debris, sending a message of support to Aber Beach Buddies who work hard to keep our own beaches clean. Greenpeace took some of the collected debris to Norway as evidence for their Save The Arctic campaign.


SAVE THE ARCTIC Greenpeace’s campaign has


already forced Shell, one of the world’s most powerful oil companies, to leave the Arctic. However, the Arctic still faces threats from oil drilling, seismic blasting, industrial fishing and climate change. Greenpeace report that the ‘Earth’s air conditioner’ is warming up at twice the rate of the rest of the planet. Home to incredible wildlife, from majestic polar bears to walruses, mysterious narwhals and graceful seabirds, the Arctic sea ice is vanishing at a terrifying speed. Experts warn that polar


bears could disappear from the Arctic within the next 100 years. Greenpeace is seeking to secure permanent protection for the Arctic. They are campaigning for a


protected sanctuary in international waters around the North Pole as part of a network of protected areas across the Arctic Ocean. The campaign asks world leaders to create a global sanctuary in the uninhabited area around the North Pole and to ban oil drilling and destructive fishing in Arctic waters.


Einaudi: Playing Elegy for the Arctic


ELEGY FOR THE ARCTIC On this voyage, Mike took


a film crew from Sky News to report trawlers at work. He hosted McDonald’s influential Head of Sustainability, Keith Kenny, known on board of course as ‘Le Big Mac’, to see for himself the damage done by bottom trawling. The Arctic Sunrise had on


board the noted ecologist and author Carl Safina, who specialises in researching changes to our oceans. They worked with the ROV specialist Gavin Newman and the film producer Jason Roberts, based in Longyearbyen, who worked with David Attenborough on the sensational Frozen Planet TV series for the BBC. Most exciting - and challenging - of all their adventures, though, was setting sail with the world famous pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi and a baby grand piano. Einaudi is the most streamed classical artist in the world. Recently, he occupied all Top Ten positions on the iTunes classical singles chart. With 400,000 followers on Spotify, Einaudi’s meditative piano playing has engaged a younger audience not normally associated with classical music. The mission, which Mike and his crew chose to accept, was to record Einaudi playing his specially composed Elegy For The Arctic on an ice floe. And the mission proved to be almost impossible! Safety concerns and insurance


company demands dictated that Einaudi could not play on an actual ice flow. Totally unpredictable, as their mass melts and centre of gravity shifts, ice floes can turn over in an instant. Mike told me that many risk assessments had to be carried out for the venture. Ultimately, he and his crew had to construct an ice floe made from cardboard mounted on a ten by two and half metre pontoon. Sod’s law in such an arid area, their first problem was rain. It was dismal start and the whole venture came very close to being abandoned. Ludovico Einaudi only had a 48 hour window in his incredibly busy touring schedule, so the crew worked flat out throughout


that whole time. The baby grand Steinway piano,


worth a cool eighty thousand Euros, which they had carried on board all the way from Bremen, had to be transferred to the pontoon by crane. Eventually, when the rain stopped, filming took place under the beautiful midnight sun. With just one shot left to take, however, disaster struck. There was a deafening boom and the crew watched as a huge mass of ice calved from the glacier that the Arctic Sunrise was anchored just five hundred metres away from. Thousands of tonnes of ice slid into the sea and a one metre high tsunami headed right for the ship. At that point there were two


RHIBs (rigid-hulled inflatable boats) in the water, filming the pianist playing his composition on the pontoon. At just under 60 metres long and weighing in at around 1,800 tonnes, the Arctic Sunrise itself was big enough to ride out the wave. It posed a very real danger to the RHIBs and especially to Ludovico Einaudi on the pontoon, however. The air temperature was at freezing point and things did not look good. Acting fast, some of the crew got Einaudi off the pontoon and onto one of the RHIBs. Meanwhile, Mike manoeuvred the Arctic Sunrise to put the RHIBs in its lea and allow the tsunami to break around the main vessel. The calved ice followed the wave


with enough force to shunt the Arctic Sunrise, but thankfully the RHIBs remained protected. Then, unable to use the Arctic Sunrise’s pilot door which was blocked by ice, there was only one way to get the 60-year-old Einaudi back aboard. Mike told me: “It was the most beautiful image of all, Ludovico climbing up the rope ladder in his tuxedo.” Unfortunately for a wider audience, that moment went unrecorded on film and is the preserve of indelible memory for the crew: you literally had to be there. So, welcome home Cap’n Mike, Aberystwyth may be a little less breathlessly exciting than your Arctic adventure but the town will surely do its best to keep you smiling through the winter.


THE HERALD FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 30 2016


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Arctic Sunrise to Aber sunset - Cap’n Mike comes home


Mike Fincken: In front of a beautiful Aber sunset (Inset) Taking Aber to the Arctic: Cap’n Mike


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