OTL06-18, trip log, North Spitsbergen – Polar Bear Special

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Embarkation, Longyearbyen

Embarkation, Longyearbyen
Datum: 19.06.2018
Position: 78°14‘N, 015°37‘E
Wind: SSE 7
Wetter: cloudy/rain
Lufttemperatur: +5

Our adventure began as we stepped in the zodiac in order to get to M/V Ortelius, our comfortable floating home for the next eight days. Since Longyearbyen’s foundation as a coal mining settlement in 1906 by John Munro Longyear, it has been the start point for many historic and pioneering expeditions. With all guests and their baggage safely on board, we departed in the late afternoon. As we cruised into the Isfjord the weather was not perfect but we used the time to gather together in the lounge for briefings and introductions. The lifeboat drill provided an opportunity for dressing up and getting to know each other. The evening continued in safety with drinks and high hopes for a successful voyage. Expedition Leader Jan, together with the Captain and the Expedition staff proposed a toast to our expedition aboard M/V Ortelius.

Day 2: Fair Haven

Fair Haven
Datum: 20.06.2018
Position: 79°31.8’N, 009°52.2’E
Wind: NE 3
Wetter: overcast/partly cloudy
Lufttemperatur: +7

This morning we were woken by our Expedition Leader Jan, while we were still sailing along the west coast of Spitsbergen. The first part of the morning was spent with some mandatory briefings on how to behave ashore without disturbing the environment and how to behave in Polar Bear territory. Even though we already had first-hand experience from our wet zodiac ride yesterday, we also attended a briefing on how to get in and out of zodiacs safely. After these mandatory briefings, we got to practice our newly learned skills as we went out for a zodiac cruise in the northwest corner of Spitsbergen. Just before the start of the cruise, the plans changed. Plan A, a cruise between some islands towards a glacier, was changed to plan B as Jan found a mother and cub Polar Bear on a nearby island. So, when all of us were in the zodiacs, we headed towards Fuglesangen. The mother and 1.5-year-old cub were walking along the shoreline and allowed us very good views. After a while, they went into the water and slowly swam towards the next island, Klovningen. After a while, many of us were cold and Sebastian and Sava were waiting for us with dinner, so we all went back to the ship. During lunch we moved a little deeper into the Smeerenburgfjord towards Smeerenburg on Amsterdamøya. Here we went ashore for several different activities. First of all, there was a group of Walruses hauled out on the beach. Even though they weren’t very active, it was still great to see these true Arctic pinnipeds. Another group went out for a walk along some lakes in the hope to find some birds. Several different species were seen, like the Pomarine and Great Skua’s, Sanderling, Red Knot and Ruddy Turnstone. While walking along the shores, we found many pieces of plastic. The expedition team had brought some garbage bags, and many of us helped cleaning up the beach a little. Especially a large fishing net was important (and complicated) to take away, as animals like Reindeer can get entangled in it. After a great dinner by the hotel team, Jan called us to the bar for one more meeting. This time he explained us the plans for the following day, which would bring us into the sea ice halfway Greenland!! After this, Melissa and Arjen explained a little about the Polar Bears we saw today, after which Arjen continued to show some maps and animations about the disappearance of sea ice due to climate change. A bit a sad story, but everybody was excited to see this very special polar habitat the next day.

Day 3: Pack ice in Fram Strait

Pack ice in Fram Strait
Datum: 21.06.2018
Position: 79°49.9’N, 000°07.9’W
Wind: SW 5
Wetter: overcast/fog
Lufttemperatur: 0

We travelled overnight almost due west and awoke just as we arrived to the pack ice. We had calm but foggy conditions most of the day yet still a very interesting experience. As we moved through the ice, we spotted ivory gulls, Brunnich’s guillemot, northern fulmar, arctic skua, little auk, long-tailed skua, and glaucous gulls. A ringed seal was spotted bobbing amongst the ice floes and later a group of about 24 harp seals porpoised by us in typical fashion. We saw many pieces of sea ice with polar bear tracks across them, some old but some quite fresh. Seeing evidence of these elusive arctic denizens and yet not actually encountering them lends a mystery to their existence that we can only imagine. As we watched these ice pans fade into the fog, we must consider our place in their world and appreciate the small glimpses we have into their lives. We spent a little time learning more about polar bears through a lecture by Melissa and later understood more about the role of sea ice in a presentation by Barbara. Just before dinner Christophe shared with us a little insight into the unique Ivory Gull and Jan briefed us on our progress as well as our plan for tomorrow’s adventures. After dinner, guests relaxed in the lounge, roamed the outside decks, or enjoyed a BBC video on polar bears in the lecture room before turning in for the “night.”

Day 4: Moffen & Sorgfjord

Moffen & Sorgfjord
Datum: 22.06.2018
Position: 79°56.0’N, 012°24.4’E
Wind: ESE 3
Wetter: partly cloudy
Lufttemperatur: +6

During the midnight sun we sail through sea ice towards north western coast of Spitsbergen. Night was calm but fog accompanied us until early morning hours. After breakfast Barbara gave us very interesting lecture „Secret life of Walruses” On a lecture we absorbed a lot of information about those bewhiskered beasts. Few minutes after Barbara’s lecture, Jan and Hotel department invite us on open deck for hot chocolate with rum and whipped cream to celebrate crossing 80°N parallel. We couldn’t choose better moment for that celebration, perfect weather, beautiful landscape of north cost of Spitsbergen and small group of walruses digesting on island. Soon after great celebration during the lunch we heard announcement about spotted Minke whale the smallest baleen whale, we were extremely lucky, they are really hard to observe because they show up for a moment, dive again and show up again in different place. Minke Whale swam around our vessel not further away than 50 meters. After tasty lunch we landed in Eolusneset, close to whalers graveyard and memorial cross of great battle between French war ships and Dutch whaling ships. During walk we could admire beautiful landscapes, fresh layer of permafrost with flowers and wildlife. At late evening Jan gave us more information about plans for tomorrow and we set course towards Hinlopenstretet and Alkefjellet.

Day 5: Sorgfjord

Datum: 23.06.2018
Position: 79°53.9’N, 016°48.5’E
Wind: SSE 5
Wetter: Cloudy
Lufttemperatur: +1

We woke this morning to beautiful sunshine and surprisingly, we were at the same spot as we were yesterday evening. Through the PA system, Jan explained us that the anchor winch got broken at 5.00 in the morning, reason why we were still at anchor in the Sorgfjord. While we were enjoying the nice view the engineers and sailors cut the anchor chain and marked the position with buoys in order to recover the anchor later. As we were leaving the Sorgfjord Melissa entertained us in the lecture room with a great talk about whales and their incredible sounds. After lunch we found ourselves off Alkefjellet. By 14.00 we left Ortelius heading to the southern tip of this amazing bird cliff colony. The zodiacs slowly passed the rocks inhabited by an estimated sixty thousand pairs of breeding Brunnich’s Guillemots. Polar Foxes were seen, Barnacle Geese, Black-legged Kittiwakes, Black Guillemots, while Glaucous Gulls were feasting on the carcasses of dead birds. By 15.45 all of us had returned to Ortelius where Sebastian and Sava had organised a nice shot of Whisky to warm us up. Christophe invited us in the lecture room for a talk about the Brünnich’s Guillemot. He got interrupted as the skies cleared up so we had an amazing view on Nordaustlandet with one of its icecap at a distance. Ortelius entered Palanderbukta towards the fast ice in order to search for wildlife. A BBQ had been organised on our helicopter deck – against the background of the majestic scenery of the Wahlenbergfjord we enjoyed the good bbq’ing by our galley staff.

Day 6: The north west: Fuglesangen - Smeerenburfjorden

The north west: Fuglesangen - Smeerenburfjorden
Datum: 24.06.2018
Position: 79°54.9’N, 011°27.7’E
Wind: NE 4
Wetter: clear, good visibility
Lufttemperatur: +13

During the night we moved along the north-west coast of Spitsbergen and in the morning, we found us next to the island Fuglesangen, where we saw the skinny female polar bear and her cub on our first expedition day. The plans for the morning, a zodiac cruise at the Fugleholmane, changed and we got to know that we do a landing instead. Hurray, a visit to the little auk colony! A short zodiac ride took us to the landing side and we walked over boulders to the nesting site of the cute little auks. What an experience to sit and watch these beautiful little birds flying in huge flocks over our heads. The air was filled with their calls as came and went from the rocks and a few snow buntings added their song to the day as well. Some of us saw a young walrus swimming by, in the background our ship and the beautiful mountainous landscape. We returned to the ship for a warm lunch and some rest before gearing up for our next adventure. Meanwhile, Ortelius was sailing into the innermost part of the Smeerenburgfjord, called BjØnfjord. There we found a wonderful medium-sized glacier, the Smeerenburgbreen. This glacier is unfortunately no exception to the general retreat of glaciers in recent decades! At around 15:30 our zodiac cruise started, and we drove in-between smaller and bigger bits of ice towards the glacier front. The conditions for a cruise were perfect, no wind and calm sea, the beautiful glacier scenery looked almost unreal. Some of us were able to watch three Arctic skuas and a Great skua chasing a kittiwake, what a spectacular flight show! Later we discovered some Barnacle Geese nesting on one of the small islands in front of Smeerenburgbreen, well protected from the Arctic fox. As we cruised along the glacier front we encountered a friendly bearded seal in the water. We certainly all experienced nice moments in the fjord which we captured with all our senses and with our cameras. Back on board we were called to the bar for more information of tomorrows plans and Arjen showed us a wonderful short-movie of our ships cruise in the Wahlenbergfjord and Palanderbukta. After dinner, for those not too tired of all the excitements of the day, a movie called “Chasing Ice” was played.

Day 7: Isfjorden & last zodiac cruises

Isfjorden & last zodiac cruises
Datum: 25.06.2018
Position: 75°08.9’N, 013°06.7’E
Wind: NW 3
Wetter: overcast
Lufttemperatur: +7.5

We travelled overnight from the Smeerenburfjorden to the Isfjord. The day was foggy with calm sea conditions. Before breakfast, around 6:15 in the morning, few whales (Blue whale and Minke whale) moved around the ship giving a very nice experience to all the passengers and staff. After the breakfast we arrived at Alkhornet, in Trygghamna, at the mouth of the Isfjord. Zodiacs with passengers landed in the beach with a good tide condition. After landing the passengers were divided in different groups in order to explore the area and have a good chance to observe animals and plants. Different species were found (and saw) during the hiking. In the specific: Svalbard reindeer, Kittiwakes, Arctic skua, Beluga, Pink-footed geese, Brant geese, Little auk. By 12:15 all of us returned to the ship to enjoy the upcoming lunch. After the meal we had a zodiac cruise in the Ymerbukta and we moved along the front of the glacier Esmarkbreen always keeping an eye at the front and the safety distance from it. We have seen Seal, Arctic skua, Great skua, Arctic tern, King eider, Common eider, Black guillemot. Around 17:30 all the passengers were again onboard for the last operations before the disembarkation but before the last drinks were consumed for the beautiful voyage. We arrive at Longyearbyen in the night at 11:30 pm and few passengers took the flight in the same day. Claudio, Christophe and Szymon help them with the operations before the departure.

Day 8: Disembarkation, Longyearbyen

Disembarkation, Longyearbyen
Datum: 26.06.2018
Position: 78°14‘N, 015°37‘E
Wind: N 2
Wetter: sunny/cloudy
Lufttemperatur: +6

Way too soon our Arctic was now coming to an end and what a remarkable week it had been! After the last breakfast on board, it was time to say goodbye. And all the passengers in the morning disembarked the vessel after a good night in their cabins. Goodbye to our ship and its crew and staff, goodbye to our new friends. We could look back on an impressive trip, and all of us had many memories of wildlife and spectacular scenery during our days in the ice, our Zodiac-cruising activities and our shore landings. We met really nice people during this cruise and we hope to see them again somewhere, someday! Thank you all for joining us on this Arctic adventure, for your great company, good humour and enthusiasm. We hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be! Total distance sailed: 1,021 Nautical Miles On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Mika Appel, Expedition Leader Jan Belgers, Hotel Manager Sebastian Duma and all the crew and staff, it has been a pleasure travelling with you.