For Chinese navigator, a sort of homecoming

HONOLULU — To the person unfamiliar with navigating such treacherous, arctic waters — virtually everyone, that is — the force of the collision would have seemed unlikely given the stillness of the moment that preceded it.

You might have said the boat had been advancing at glacial place if, in fact, the figurative held any meaning among the literal mountains of ice that lay in silent, invisible wait.

Captain Zhai Mo had been behind the wheel of the 80-foot boat, his two crewmen Mikhail Kotelnikov and Wang Tienan at either side of the bow, all scanning the surface of the water with a prolonged, unblinking, hyper-aware intensity known by soldiers and surgeons and sailors of the Arctic Circle.

How long had they been like that? Hours, of course. Days? The absence of night made it difficult to tell. The established rhythm of time — one asleep, two awake, two hours per rotation — had been suspended for this most delicate passage across the iceberg-laden ocean off Greenland and close to the North Pole.

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