|Position:||78°13.7’ N, 015°36.1’|
As the bridge team skilfully manoeuvred our ship away from the harbour wall in Longyearbyen we could not have wished for better conditions. The snow-covered mountains were reflected in the glassy, calm waters and warm sunshine was pouring in through the Observation Lounge windows. Once the newly embarked guests had been given room keys and reunited with their luggage at their cabins it was time for the mandatory ship safety briefing. Expedition Leader Eduardo, Hotel Manager William and Chief Officer Diederik provided us with vital information regarding the lovely ship that would be our home for the next week. Dr Arne Mosch also introduced himself, reassuring guests with his presence on board for any medical assistance required. During the safety briefing members of the Expedition Team demonstrated putting on life jackets and showed the floatation suits, both of which are stored within cabins for use in an emergency situation. After the briefing we had to put our newfound safety knowledge to use in a drill; the bridge crew sounded an abandon ship alarm and we all dutifully made our way to our muster stations, either in the Observation Lounge (station B) or Restaurant (station A). Once all guests had arrived and been checked for correct life jacket fastening, we proceed to the lifeboat boarding area on deck 6. Depending on our muster station, we were directed to a lifeboat on either port or starboard side and given further information by Second Officer Kirill Buriachek. Our bird list had already accumulated a few species including Black Guillemot, Northern Fulmar, Common Eider and Black-legged Kittiwake. With the calm conditions guests and staff alike were hopeful we might also see some whales whilst transitting away from Longyearbyen along Isfjord (ice fjord). We then had a short break before reconvening in the Observation Lounge for the welcome briefing. The information given by our Expedition Leader and Hotel Manager was very useful, but we were undeniably distracted by the incredible scenery passing by outside! We all continued to enjoy these views during dinner which followed shortly after the welcome briefing; a delicious buffet meal provided by head chef Ralf and his galley team, served by our friendly and attentive dining room stewards. Out third and final briefing of the evening covered the regulations of AECO (the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators) which must be adhered to during our cruise. These cover matters such as how closely we can approach wildlife, how we should respectfully behave towards the beautiful Arctic environment and polar bear safety. The Expedition Team also took this opportunity to introduce themselves. After so much information over the course of the evening most people headed to bed. Those still awake were rewarded with the astonishing sight of a Blue Whale (the largest species, reaching up to 33m long) close to the ship on the port side! At first this appeared to be just one animal, but then a second blow was seen (the plume of spray as these ocean giants exhale). Later a much small species, a Minke Whale (up to 10m long) was also observed passing quickly by the ship.