Daily grind getting you down? Try getting stuck in a boat in the polar ice with a toddler, no sunshine, howling wind and temperatures around 40 below zero.
These are normal conditions for veteran Canadian Arctic explorer Graeme Magor, his wife, Lynda, and their 2-year-old daughter, Keziah, as they retrace the century-old footsteps of Norwegian explorer Otto Sverdrup.
Keziah, whose middle name is Winter, is probably the world's youngest polar explorer. Her parents are making the trip with two other couples in the 23-ton ship, Northanger.
"Conditions are getting a little bit dramatic," Magor told the Reuters news service by satellite telephone from his ship off Ellesmere Island, about 620 miles from the North Pole. "On a daily basis we're having to make decisions that are pretty grave. The consequences for getting lost here are fairly severe."
Magor, 44, heads the expedition to commemorate the accomplishments of Sverdrup, who helped produce definitive maps of the Arctic island in expeditions from 1893 to 1902.
Sverdrup's boat was frozen in the ice while he was searching for a shortcut to the Pacific from Europe in 1898. Because of the ice, Sverdrup changed his plans and concentrated on exploring the west coast of Ellesmere Island over the next four years.
Magor's team will conduct scientific research during its yearlong voyage and will try to raise public awareness of the Arctic region.
The expedition sailed from Oslo in June and arrived at Hourglass Bay, off Ellesmere Island, in August. It will stay in the bay until it starts the return trip to Norway next summer. In the spring, some team members will ski across the tundra looking for traces of Sverdrup's travels.
Taking a child on the voyage "is a whole new wrinkle on expeditions" and required special preparation, Magor said. "As anybody with a 2-year-old knows, you have to be equipped with all sorts of diversions."
Team members alternate between living on the 50-foot yacht, which is designed to withstand the pressure of polar ice, and in a 10-by-26-foot hut nearby.
With the essential work of setting up camp for the winter completed, the team is dealing with the physical and psychological stresses of the harsh conditions--especially the dark, Magor said.
"We lost our sun on Oct. 31," he said. "We try to telepathically lift the sun a little more with each passing day." Until the sun rises again on Feb. 11, outdoor work is done by moonlight.
"We're expecting in the low minus-40s in the bottom part of the winter," he added.
The Otto Sverdrup Centennial Expedition has set up an extensive program on the Internet for people interested in following its progress (www.sverdrup2000.org). E-mail and phone links with the outside world make Arctic exploring easier than in the past, Magor said, because "there's an illusion of everything being at hand."
But that is no reason to be lulled into complacency. "We have to realize that the situation, while not precarious, is still quite sobering," he said.