The Russian fuel tanker Renda that with help of a U.S. Coast Guard ice-breaking cutter carved its way to Nome through hundreds of miles of sea ice is once again in the grip of the Bering Sea's deep freeze.
The ships left Nome early Saturday morning, facing a journey of about 360 miles southward through the ice before reaching open water.
By Thursday they were 230 miles south of Nome, but had only ventured halfway through the ice, according to Vitus Marine, the Alaskan shipping company that hired Renda to bring the fuel to a buyer in Nome.
The expedition to Nome was a stop and go adventure, with the cutter Healy having to double back several times to free Renda from giant ice sheets that had pinched the ship to a halt.
"Once they travel South of Nunivak Island the ice is expected to be more fractured and a bit easier to navigate through," said Stacey Smith, a project manager with Vitus Marine. "The winds, however, are forecast to switch from northerly to easterly, the effect on ice navigation of the change in wind direction is unknown."
Hourly photos from a webcam posted in the Healy's mast now chronicle the journey. Images featuring the Renda in sight can be found here, and here, and here. (The crack in the camera's protective housing is relatively new, and appears to have happened before the ships left Nome.)
The Renda, which in an historic winter fuel delivery brought a little more than 1.3 million gallons of diesel and gasoline to Nome, is returning to her home port in the Russian far east. The Healy is headed to Seattle.
While media attention for the trip back has waned in comparison to the first half of the voyage, the ships and their crews still have work cut out for them. In her most recent update Smith summed up the unfolding saga in three words: "Go, tanker, go!"
Contact Jill Burke at jill(at)alaskadispatch.com