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A Modern Arctic Voyage on a Historic Arctic Vessel

by Oceanwide Expeditions Blog

This August our Arctic program includes two incredibly scenic wildlife trips that allow you to circumnavigate the Arctic island of Spitsbergen, experiencing the far north like a true polar explorer: in a traditional mast-and-sail ice-strengthened vessel.
Antarctic Peninsula

Ship: s/v Noorderlicht

Regions: Arctic

Destinations: Svalbard

Enjoy the most classic Arctic islands in the most traditional nautical style

This August our Arctic program includes two incredibly scenic wildlife trips that allow you to circumnavigate the Arctic island of Spitsbergen, experiencing the far north like a true polar explorer: in a traditional mast-and-sail ice-strengthened vessel.

Our historic s/v Noorderlicht, built in 1910 and thoroughly renovated for modern polar travel, will make two 15-night voyages, one spanning August 7 – 22, the other August 22 – September 6.

In addition to being one of the best places on the planet to spot polar bears, Spitsbergen (the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago) also gives you the chance to see whales, walruses, seals, reindeer, and multiple species of seabird.

And that’s only when you’re not gushing over amazing panoramic landscapes, walking among the remnants of local whaling history, and marveling at all the otherworldly ice formations!

Longyearbyen, Trygghamna, and the Pomors

Both of these adventurous Arctic voyages begin in Longyearbyen, the administrative center of Spitsbergen. In this rugged mining-turned-resort town, you’ll enjoy the parish church, Svalbard Museum, Svalbard Bryggeri (brewery), and simply strolling around.

In the early evening, the ship will sail out of Isfjorden. Here you might spot the first minke whale of your voyage, and after reaching Trygghamna, you’ll see the remains of a 17th-century English whaling station and 18th-century Pomor hunting station, both of which you can visit the next morning.

Foxes, seabirds, and grazing reindeer

Your morning walk will take you from Trygghamna to Alkhornet, a large seabird cliff where the birds are scouting out breeding places. Below the cliffs is a common place to spot Arctic foxes, and you may also see reindeer grazing on the lush vegetation if there’s not too much snow.

Remains of whaling and possible polar bears sightings

You’ll then sail into Fuglefjorden amid views of Svitjodbreen and Birgerbukta, both breeding areas for great skuas as well as likely spots to see a polar bear. On Birgerbukta you can also view 17th-century Basque ovens once used for cooking whale blubber.

Afterward you’ll visit Ytre Norskøya, a small island that served for many years as a Dutch whaling lookout. Here you can still follow the whalers’ tracks to the summit of the island, passing popular bird cliffs along the way.

And on the shores you’ll see the remains of more 17th-century blubber ovens, while Arctic skuas and common eiders breed among the graves of some two hundred Dutch whalers.

A stellar survey of Svalbard’s many stunning sights

Over the roughly nine days that comprise the bulk of these two Noorderlicht trips, you will see a number of classic Arctic areas.

These will start with either Sorgfjord or Murchison Bay, on the north side of which lies an extensive polar desert home to numerous reindeer as well as a Swedish research station. You will then continue through Hinlopen Strait, surrounded by lofty ice caps, before visiting many of the following landing sites (depending on local weather and wildlife conditions):

Lomford is a beautiful fjord fringed by towering mountains that offer a great opportunities for a hike. Or you could visit Wilhelmøya, a tundra landscape in which polar bears can possibly be seen, and a good area for shoreline, inland, and altitude-gaining walks.

Svartknausflya is another option. This is a stark polar desert almost devoid of vegetation but rich with invertebrate fossils and whale skeletons along its raised beaches. Heleysundet is possible too, a narrow but picturesque waterway.

You could also sail through Freemansundet, and a walk at Kapp Lee may introduce you to a few new reindeer and walruses. You might also visit a large colony of kittiwakes nesting in Diskobukta, a canyon area where Arctic foxes and polar bears often roam, scavenging for birds that fall from the ledges. Sub-fossilized whale bones are also scattered across these raised beaches.

Sailing into the labyrinth of side fjords around Hornsund is a possibility as well, and at Brepollen rests a large glacial deposit at the head of the fjord. The glacier front will afford you good chances of spotting bearded seals and polar bears, and the geological formations in this area are mesmerizing.

On your way back to Longyearbyen, you may also visit Ahlstrandhalvøya. More fascinating geological formations can be seen here, as well as the remains of 20th-century beluga hunting. (Despite the hunting, this is still a good area to see beluga.) And if time allows, you could next pay a visit to Barentsburg, the only inhabited Russian settlement in Spitsbergen.

The return to Longyearbyen (and a few Arctic disclaimers)

After over two weeks of seeing some of the best sights in the Arctic, you’ll return to Longyearbyen with memories you can share for a lifetime. But please note that, as with all of our polar expedition voyages, the exact itineraries of these Arctic trips may vary based on  local ice, weather, and wildlife conditions.

Flexibility is paramount for all expedition cruises, and willingness to compromise on comfort is a basic requirement on board a historic sailing vessel. Also, Noorderlicht is equipped with sails to be used in good conditions, but good conditions are never guaranteed in the polar regions.

The captain will decide whether to use the sails or the engine. If sails are used, the crew will operate them, and we ask that you please follow all safety instructions especially at these times. But as the average cruising speed for Noorderlicht is 6 knots, your trip will be safe and comfortable.

Not to mention exciting, adventurous, and absolutely awe-inspiring! These two Arctic voyages are among of the best ways to tour the scenic islands of Svalbard, getting a true taste of historic polar exploration that we’re sure you will cherish long after you’ve returned home.

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