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September 27, 2012

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Bai steers a steady course to an Arctic first

A LOCAL university teacher has become the country's first woman to have sailed across the Arctic Ocean.

Bai Xiang'en, 28, was one of four people at the helm of China's only icebreaker Xue Long, or Snow Dragon, on an expedition from July to September.

She and her husband postponed plans to have a baby so she could be part of the 90-day science exploration.

The icebreaker will anchor at Wusong Port today and Bai will return to lecture her students at Shanghai Maritime University after the National Day Holiday.

"I have taken many pictures and recorded lots of video materials in the trip to share with my students later," she told Shanghai Daily.

"The journey has greatly improved my navigation skills," she said. "It's been a very valuable experience."

Bai was the only woman among four people selected due to her extensive knowledge and experience of sea travel.

Her love of the sea began in childhood as her father works for a shipping company.

She applied to Shanghai Maritime University to major in navigation after she left high school and is now studying for a PhD in navigation while teaching at the university's Merchant Marine College. She has led students on voyages between China and South Korea on many occasions and her time at sea amounts to a total of two years.

Bai said sailing in the East Siberian Sea presented an enormous challenge, with its floating pack ice and icebergs. She had to exercise extreme caution at all times to avoid hitting icebergs or getting trapped between sheets of ice.

The ship did get stuck once and it was 10 hours before it could continue its journey.

The sea equivalent of jet lag was also a problem. The four worked in four-hour shifts as the ice breaker traveled across several different time zones.

Bai said she listened to music, watched movies and took pictures to alleviate the pressure and fight off fatigue.

For a long time, men dominated in the navigation of ships and few women are engaged in the field.

Bai said women suffer a disadvantage in some work which requires strength, but that had been greatly decreased in modern navigation with the development of technology and high-tech equipment.


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