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  • PLA11-23, trip log, Around Spitsbergen - Kvitoya, in the realm of polar bear & ice

PLA11-23, trip log, Around Spitsbergen - Kvitoya, in the realm of polar bear & ice

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Longyearbyen, Embarkation Day

Longyearbyen, Embarkation Day
Datum: 11.08.2023
Position: 78°14.6’N / 015°32.6’E
Wind: NW 3
Wetter: Overcast
Lufttemperatur: +11

We arrived in Longyearbyen in the afternoon, having travelled from all over the world to reach the spectacular archipelago of Svalbard. Once everyone was on board, we took part in all the necessary safety briefings and were shown where important safety features of the ship are. We then spent some time familiarising ourselves with the layout of our new home and enjoying the views as we set sail. Before dinner, Captain Artur wished us well with a toast in the lounge. Expedition Leader Rinie introduced himself as well as the whole expedition team. We then set off to the restaurant for a delicious buffet dinner. After a lovely dinner, most of us went outside to enjoy the views.

Day 2: Sarstangen, Blomstrandoya & Lilliehookbreen

Sarstangen, Blomstrandoya & Lilliehookbreen
Datum: 12.08.2023
Position: 78°44.3’N / 011°24.4’E
Wind: SSE 3
Wetter: Fog
Lufttemperatur: +7.5

Our first night at sea went smoothly, though we had sailed on the outside of Prins Karls Forland without any shelter from the common swells of the Fram Strait. Due to the Plancius draught, we had to take the longer route in order to arrive at our planned destination at Sarstangen. Sarstangen is a narrow band of gravel and sand which extends further below the water across the whole of Forlandssundet and has depths between one to three meters, offering only a five cables wide passage with four meters of water at the lowest astronomic tide.

Instead of starting the day running aground, we came to pay a visit to the friendly group of walrus who often haul out on the sandy beaches here. After breakfast, we received an introduction to wildlife observation procedures in general and walrus etiquette specifically, as well as a safety briefing on boarding and unboarding Zodiacs.

The surrounding landscape, with their pointed peaks on both sides of the sound, almost disappeared in fog as we arrived at our anchorage, but we did not lose hope. Dressed warmly and donning the safety vests, we were soon ready to board the Zodiacs from the gangway, and our guides set off into the void on a steady course towards the beach.

Here we split up into two groups so as to not overwhelm the walrus, which indeed were hanging out in a group a bit further ahead on the peninsula. One group stayed behind for a start, attending a presentation from Rinie about walrus in the Arctic, while the other started approaching them carefully, moving calmy in a phalanx step by step, as to not startle the animals. From a distance of just about 50 meters, we were able to observe them as they were resting there, huddled up in a group, scratching themselves and grunting. A few of them were in the water, paddling and diving peacefully, approaching us and checking us out. Halfway through our stay, we swapped: the second group went to see the walrus and the first returned as carefully and calmly as they had arrived back to the landing site to hear Rinie’s lecture.

Safely back in the ship, we enjoyed the lunch buffet while Plancius continued onwards into Kongsfjorden to Blomstrandøya, where we spent the afternoon hiking. Three different groups offered everything from an easy stroll on the tundra to an energetic ascent towards a nice view across Kongsfjord. What massive glaciers!

During a delicious three-course dinner, we turned around and made way into Krossfjorden and Lilliehöökfjorden. There we could admire the impressive glacier front of Lilliehöökbreen right from the outer decks, stretching a good eight kilometers along the innermost part of the fjord. Our captain steered the ship carefully trough the debris of earlier calvings, but the glacier remained silent tonight. Eventually we turned around and made our way back into Kongsfjord, heading northwards for the night.

Day 3: Mushamna & Liefdefjord

Mushamna & Liefdefjord
Datum: 13.08.2023
Position: 79°40.0’N / 014°10.8’E
Wind: NSW 6
Wetter: Fog
Lufttemperatur: +6

While sailing into Woodfjorden towards Mushamna, we saw fin whales around the ship. After the breakfast, we had another short briefing from Rinie about our upcoming plans for the day. We were planning to have a hike: a medium hike or leisurely hike. We had a bit of fog on the mountain, so the long hikers couldn’t go above the fog line, but they did a nice long walk around the place. The other groups were also exploring the area and listening to all the information they could get from the guides.

We saw red-throated divers just above the landing site. Skuas harassed these beautiful birds, forcing them to dive. When we headed back towards the landing site, the fog was coming in more and more. The visibility was going down, so we had to move a bit faster to stay safe and reach the landing site as quickly as possible.

Back on the ship, we had lunch and sailed towards the Monacobreen, which is in the Ljefdefjord. We had fog and a lot of ice. Our plan was to go as early as possible to the ice edge to first enjoy the beautiful scenery and to look for wildlife. And hopefully for some bears. We did a ship cruise in front of the 5km wide glacier. The glacier was named after Prince Albert I of Monaco. Scottish polar explorer Dr. William S. Bruce was a member of the Prince's expedition in 1899 and he probably then saw the glacier, which was mapped by the expeditions in 1906 and 1907 organized by the Prince and led by G. Isachsen.

Our bridge team navigated us as close as possible to the glacier, as we even sailed into unmapped areas. After we took some pictures and enjoyed the icebergs in the water, we made our way to the sea ice. From Liefdefjord to the ice edge it was a transfer of about 15h. When we left the Woodfjord, we found Minke whales feeding. Quite close to the ship. A nice encounter!

After the daily recap and the plans for tomorrow, we went straight for dinner and after that for a drink at the bar.

Day 4: A Day in the Pack Ice

A Day in the Pack Ice
Datum: 14.08.2023
Position: 81°05.6’N / 025°10.3’E
Wind: E 2
Wetter: Overcast
Lufttemperatur: -0.4

Overnight Plancius had travelled north in search of the sea ice. This allowed us to catch up on some sleep after the past few days of hiking. At 7:45 Rinie announced to us that the sea ice had been reached. We already passed the Seven Islands now at 81°N. It was going to be our first day on the pack ice searching for wildlife, with our main goal of spotting a polar bears. Searching for polar bears feels a bit like finding a needle in a haystack, but we know that they are here and with yellowish colored fur. We should be able to spot one sooner or later.

After breakfast we went to the outside decks and bridge with our binoculars searching for wildlife. The day was sunny, with beautiful clouds, a very good day to stay outside. Many keen eyes scanned the horizon for hours in the hope of spotting a bear. There were a lot of seabirds flying and feeding just around our vessel. Along with we went north, it was easy for us to spot bearded seals sleeping or relaxing on the sea ice. They were everywhere.

After a delicious buffet lunch, around 13:40 we spotted our first bear in the water! It was quite a health female bear, swimming all the way right and often disappearing out of sight. Then the bear decided to climb on the pack ice. She looked briefly at us, and after a few minutes walking, she jumped back into the water to try to find a seal to eat. To our surprise, an ice cream station appeared in the lounge bar to celebrate our first bear.

At 16:30 Koen invited us all to join his lecture in the lounge. But he couldn’t start, since we got message from the bridge that our second polar bear had been spotted. We all ran out of the lounge bar to get a look.

This bear was also a female, probably highly pregnant. It was very active, just like we expected. After she came out from the water, she began to roll around on the pack ice. The bear was always staring at us when it stopped to turn over itself. She was super relaxed on the ice. We all crowded the bow and decks, clicking cameras without break. It was amazing to see polar bears in their natural environment.

Day 5: Pack Ice

Pack Ice
Datum: 15.08.2023
Position: 81°13’.5 N, 024°37’.3 E
Wind: SE 4
Wetter: Partly clouded
Lufttemperatur: + 0.6

We went out to explore more of the Arctic sea ice today. Yesterday was amazing, but the world is never done providing new and beautiful surprises. We started the day with a delicious breakfast in our restaurant while our captain moved our ship towards the pack ice. The weather was again in our favor, which made the pack ice look incredibly beautiful. The sun shining over the endless amount of ice drifting in all sorts and shapes was certainly a moment to cherish. Many people were out and about looking for wildlife during the entire morning. Since we were in an area where the sea bottom was relatively deep, there were not many seals laying around on the ice. This made Rinie decide to head a little more west to the shallower seas.

On our way, Koen finally got to give his lecture about sea ice. He explained the different types of sea ice, how it is formed and how it moves through the Arctic Ocean. From now on we could look with more knowledgeable eyes at the sea ice, as we now knew how to recognize Ice Cakes, Ice Floes, and Hummocks. He also explained the likely outcome of our planet warming up. Definitely not the most positive outcome, although it is better to know the truth then to live in ignorance. The same truth will make us understand and this will make us care for it. And while caring for something you want to protect it.

Just before lunch started, we got the news that a bear was sighted with a kill further up on the sea ice. This made everybody eat their lunch faster than normal to make their way to the bow of the ship. We indeed got closer and closer, which made it clear that we were looking at a large male polar bear that had killed a bearded seal. The approach went slow, so as to not scare the bear in any way. As the bear had just made a kill and he was eating as much as he could, he was not very interested in anything other than the delicious meal that was laying in front of him.

There were a couple of times he stood up, but he kept on eating nonetheless. To see a bear with a kill next to him was an incredible experience. Being in the environment of the bear seeing, feeling, and hearing everything. Together with a couple of sounds that were mechanically made by a few cameras of course. We stayed quite close to the ice flow, which the bear was laying on. It did not matter if you had a high-end camera or a mobile phone: the photos were all close up with a lot of details in it. Towards the end, the polar bear started to bury his catch under the snow, which Rinie later explained was called “temporarily stashing”. Not long after that, the bear started to sleep next to the seal to slowly digest the large meal he had just had.

During the evening recap, we got explained several things about polar bear behavior by Rinie: how they catch a seal and how they sometimes share in between different bears. Simone talked a bit about her PHD in Polar Studies and let us listen to several recordings that she had made during the past days. She let us listen to the ship going through the pack ice and how we sound when observing a polar bear. These were a lot of sounds of cameras and curiously enough no voices at all, showing how focused everybody was. And so, our day came to an end. Without a doubt we can expect more amazing experiences for tomorrow as the Arctic is a place filled with wonders.

Day 6: Kvitøya, Isispynten & Austfonna

Kvitøya, Isispynten & Austfonna
Datum: 16.08.2023
Position: 79°59.3’N / 030°14.7’E
Wind: E 4
Wetter: Fog/rain
Lufttemperatur: +3

The fog kept us company until the following morning. In addition, the ship was moving in a different way: after the past few days in calm waters, a distinct swell indicated a significant change in weather, and as we looked outside it was grey and quite windy. This did not look promising for the planned morning activities. However, the breakfast was delicious as usual, and we kept our spirits high. At least we could feel that we were at sea now!

Rinie soon confirmed that the present weather conditions were one of many reasons for landings at Svalbard’s easternmost island to be few and irregular (occasional bears and walrus being other such reasons preventing landings). However, he would not quite cancel anything just yet, instead two scout Zodiacs were soon lowered into the water, and those of us who had gotten dressed and ready by now were able to witness the effects of the swell at the gangway first hand.

Looking from the window down to the water below, things had looked a bit wet. But as soon as the drivers approached the gangway to pick up their scout, the proportions of the motion were obvious. The first wave offered an unpleasantly refreshing shower for the AB waiting with the ropes, and once Irene had carefully manoeuvered towards the platform, Rinie performed a quick balancing act in order to time his vertical departure from the gangway with that of the rubber boat. Clearly he had previous experience with this, as the exercise was performed with elegance. Whether we would stand a chance to do the same seemed not equally likely. After Koen and Henrik had managed the same manoeuvre sucessfully, the Zodiacs went off against the wind and towards Kvitøya, and soon disappeared out of sight.

Due to limited soundings, Plancius was not able to approach closer to shore, and we had been warned about this being a long shuttle. However, judging distances had proven tricky. After about half an hour, we were yet again able to spot Irene´s brightly yellow cap somewhere way out there on the water, and another 15 minutes went by until a salt-water-drenched Rinie climbed up the gangway and confirmed our suspicions. This was not the day for a nice Zodiac cruise, and the view on Kvitøya was definitely better from the decks of Plancius than from a bouncing rubber boat.

Instead we continued our travel with fingers crossed for more favourable conditions for the afternoon. Simone offered us some more interesting insight into her research on the sounds of the Arctic as Plancius made way towards the eastern shores of Nordaustland. From time to time, the fog seemed to lift a bit, but the monotonous view on the grey sea was only interrupted by a few harp seals and some minor pieces of glacier ice, reminding ut that somewhere out there was the longest continuous glacier front of the northern hemisphere, some impressive 170 kilometres long.

The next highlight was lunch – Kabir and his galley team had been working their magic again. A good meal is always beneficial for the mood, and today was no exception from that rule. Eventually we were able to distinguish some shapes and conture in the mist. This had to be Austfonna! Upon aproach, we could soon see what seemed like a larger dark brown sandy beach with rocks and boulders in front of the steep ice cliff. Isispynten – and the island Isisøya – were one of only few areas with land along this part of Nordaustland.

Unfortunately for us though, the conditions had not improved, the sea was breaking in impressive waves at the shore, sending sea spray high up against the land. This time, no gangway demonstration was needed. Obviously, we were meant to stay on our ship today and enjoy whatever the view had to offer from the protected safe space of the lounge, preferably with a cup of hot tea or coffee.

Instead of physical activity, an offer was made for the small grey cells: polar bear reproduction and ecology was the topic of today´s lecture, held by Rinie, who had dedicated much of his career to these fascinating creatures and willingly shared his insights with us. As the afternoon passed by, the clouds finally lifted enough to reveal the impressive glacial front of Austfonna.

Carefully, Plancius followed its own previously recorded soundings, and just in time for dinner, a perfect location was found to let the ship stay adrift for the evening. A few walrus passed us curiously, apparently mothers with calves. Every now and then, a calving happened along the ice edge roughly 1.2 nm away, lifting Plancius gently up and down as the waves reached us. Eventually the sun broke through the clouds and illuminated the crevasses and pointed ridges to the south. A day that had started in dull and husky conditions came to an end in an almost enchanting serene atmosphere.

Day 7: Kapp Waldburg (Edgeøya) and Rindedalen

Kapp Waldburg (Edgeøya) and Rindedalen
Datum: 17.08.2023
Position: 78°15.5’N / 021°55.8’E
Wind: W 5
Wetter: Partly clouded
Lufttemperatur: +7

First day when we were listening to the wakeup call, we had a comfortable temperature, and we had the sunshine back. After a day of rain, swell, wind and staying onboard, we were desperate to go out. Next to sunshine we had a lot of wind and breaking waves with a white foam, which always tells us we must have more than 30 knots of wind. And that would have been too much for our operation. But luckily the wind was dropping, and our brave captain went as close as he never went before, we got us to a very calm and good spot. The gangways were protected from the swell and the wind and the operation with the Zodiacs went very smooth.

After breakfast, we had our briefing and we were looking forward to seeing all these Kittiwakes at Kapp Waldburg. We dressed up quickly and went down or up to the gangways. The drivers were already waiting for us to shuttle us ashore. After a short ride, we arrived at the beach where Rinie welcomed us once more.

There was a bit of a side swell, which hit us during disembarking, but we are expeditioners, and we could easily handle this. We took of our life vests and off we went towards the canyon with the kittiwakes. On our way, we saw at least six reindeers walking on the tundra. There were males and females and the males had big antlers.

Further up in the tundra there was even sitting one reindeer and resting a bit. We went closer and closer to the canyon as suddenly a fox came down the slope. So nice! Our first fox and our first reindeers and both such good sightings. And even later we saw so many more and closer ones. One fox was playing around the reindeer. Then we arrived in the canyon with the Kittiwakes and they had chicks, so many of them. After we enjoyed the sound and the flying around from the Kittiwakes, we went straight down to the beach, not back to the landing sites, and got picked up by our lovely Zodiac drivers. They brought us back to the ship where we enjoyed another food from our galley team.

In the afternoon, the way to go to the next place wasn’t that far away. So shortly after lunch, we could go for another hike at Rindedalen. We got a nice story about the place and the four Dutch men who had to overwinter there. One died, and later on even a young bear died. We got again three options that we could choose from for what to do. We arrived at the beach and the hikers went straight off up to the very top, where sadly the mist came in and ruined our beautiful view inland. But luckily the view to the Freemansundet was still there. The landscape was just outstanding, what a nice hike. Back at the beach some of us went for a polar plunge. A swim in 5 degrees cold water. And then quickly back to the ship to have a hot shower.

After a short recap and learning something about Svalbard’s geology, we had a great dinner and fell fast asleep after this active day.

Day 8: Gåshamna & Burgerbukta

Gåshamna & Burgerbukta
Datum: 18.08.2023
Position: 76°56.7’N / 015°49.5’E
Wind: W 4
Wetter: Partly clouded
Lufttemperatur: +7

We woke up this morning with a decent swell, which luckily calmed down once we entered the beautiful Hornsund. When the Zodiacs were launched, our drivers took us into the bay of Gåshamna. A large part of us took off with Rinie, Henrik, and Esther on the longer hike heading up the close-by hill. Irene, Carina, and Mengxiao accompanied the medium hike. Koen and Simone strolled along the beach with the leisurely wanderers. This bay had a lot to offer for all hiking levels.

Scattered along the beach, we found the relatively well-preserved remains of an old British whaling station from the 17th century. The giant whale bones gave us an idea of the true size of these majestic animals that were almost hunted to extinction in these areas.

On the far end of the beach, we walked through impressive rock formations and took a path that led us further up the hill. We discovered interesting patches of vegetation that stood in contrast to the barren landscape around us. As we took a closer look, we learnt that a single bone on the ground can sustain an entire ecosystem for several centuries. We now understand why it is so crucial to leave these places untouched. Picking up one of these bones and taking them away can suddenly destroy a whole miniature ecosystem that took hundreds of years to grow.

We continued our hike further up the hill, where we got an incredible panorama view over the entire bay. On our way back towards the landing site, we passed some of the remains of old huts that were used by Pomor hunters and trappers. Bricks, wooden beams, and piles of bones told stories of a time long passed.

Back on our ship, we enjoyed yet another amazing lunch buffet and some time to relax. We were eventually called to get ready for a Zodiac cruise in Burgerbukta – named after Wilhelm Burger, an Austrian photographer and painter who accompanied the Austro-Hungarian North Pole Expedition in 1872-74. Burgerbukta offered us steep, rugged mountain cliffs and massive ice bergs that broke off the nearby glacier named Paierlbreen. Finally we even got to see puffins, one of the birds many of us have been excited to see. The closer we got to the glacier, the higher the density of ice bergs, ice floes, and brash ice. We were surrounded by the incredible sounds and colours of nature and in the Zodiac as we slowly made our way through the ice maze.

When we got back to the ship, the crew had prepared a surprise for us: we had a barbeque out on the aft deck surrounded by breath-taking Arctic scenery. What a way to end this spectacular day! After great food, some nice drinks and a real good dance session, we snuggled up in our cabins, happy and in anticipation of the coming day.

Day 9: Gjertsenodden & Tordenskjoldbukta

Gjertsenodden & Tordenskjoldbukta
Datum: 19.08.2023
Position: 78°31.1’N / 012°51.0’E
Wind: E 2
Wetter: Partly clouded
Lufttemperatur: +7

In the morning of our last full day of the expedition, we started as usual with a nice breakfast. Our initial plan was to visit a walrus haul out place called Isispynten on the east side of Prins Karls Forland. However, when we arrived there we counted only a few walrus on the beach. The walrus will go to sea to feed for several days this time of year, and it’s not a guarantee to find them even in their usual places.

So instead we headed for a nearby location called Gjertsenodden in St. Jonsfjord, where we split up in three different groups. The long hikers went to the top of a ridge with a very nice scenery. The medium group walked in another direction and encountered some reindeer. The day started a little overcast, but while we were ashore the clouds broke up and the sun peeked through, just in time for the leisurely group to explore a little trapper’s hut on the beach. Gjertsenodden got its name after H. F. Gjertsen who was part of Amundsen’s South Pole expedition 1910-12 and also 2nd in command of the Norwegian Spitsbergen expedition 1920-21.

The sun stayed with us over lunch, and after the meal it was time to settle the onboard account with Hotel Manager Ingrid. A sign that the trip was slowly coming to an end. The afternoon started with a few hours of sailing time to our next planned stop called Tordenskjoldbukta, named after Petter Wessel Tordenskjold, who was a naval officer born in 1690. Here we again split up in three groups and went for nice hikes in the sun. Some of us saw several reindeer up close and another group found parts from a weather balloon. The landscape was vast and visibility great during the hikes.

After returning to the ship for the last time, we freshened up and met with the captain and the expedition team in the lounge for a farewell drink and a salute to our successful journey. The day was not quite over, as we had a nice farewell dinner. After this, it was time for returning the rubber boots that had served us well over the last 10 days!

Some of us had an early evening since the first flight was early the next morning, but others chose to continue celebrating a successfull expedition in the lounge.

Day 10: Port of Longyearbyen

Port of Longyearbyen
Datum: 20.08.2023
Position: 78°14.6’N / 015°32.6’E
Wind: N 5
Wetter: Cloudy
Lufttemperatur: +9

Early this morning, we arrived in Longyearbyen. While we enjoyed a last breakfast on board, our suitcases were taken off the ship. It is a sad moment to disembark from Plancius, which has been a comfortable and cozy home during this unforgettable journey. We have shared many unique moments, seen a range of rarely sighted wildlife, and made new friends. Loaded with fond memories, we now must head home.

Our wildlife encounters on this trip have been truly spectacular. For many of the guides, this trip they had their best polar bear sightings yet. For the most part, the weather was fantastic, and we loved sharing our love for the Arctic with you.

Thank you all for travelling with us on this voyage and for your enthusiasm, support, and good company. We hope to see you in the future, wherever that might be!

Total distance sailed: 1229,3 nautical miles

Northernmost position: 81°13.5’N

On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Artur Iakovlev, Expedition Leader Rinie van Meurs, Hotel Manager Ingrid Van de Loo, and all the crew and staff of M/V Plancius, it has been a pleasure travelling with you.


Tripcode: PLA11-23
Daten: 11 Aug - 20 Aug, 2023
Dauer: 9 Nächte
Schiff: MS Plancius
Einschiffung: Longyearbyen
Ausschiffung: Longyearbyen

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