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HDS03-22, trip log, North Spitsbergen, In search of Polar Bear & Pack Ice Arc of Meridian

by Oceanwide Expeditions

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Day 1: Embarkation, Longyearbyen

Embarkation, Longyearbyen
Datum: 09.06.2022
Positie: 78°14.0’ N, 015°37.4’ E
Wind: W 2
Weer: Overcast
Luchttemperatuur: +5

Today our Arctic adventure began and as it was raining guests were even more keen to hurry on board to commence our journey! The Expedition Team lifted luggage aboard and then greeted guests as they walked up the gangway of our lovely ship, M/V Hondius. With guests and their luggage happily aboard Expedition Leader (EL) Eduardo, and Chief Officer Matei commenced the mandatory ship safety briefing at 17:30pm. Dr Rogier Steins also introduced himself; he too had been scheduled to come on board a few years ago so shared the guest’s joy at being on board! During the safety briefing guests were shown how to put on life jackets and shown the floatation suits which are stored in all cabins for use in an emergency situation. As part of the briefing an abandon ship alarm was sounded so we all made our way to our muster stations, either in the Observation Lounge (station B) or Restaurant (station A). Once all guests had arrived wearing their lifejackets correctly, we proceeded to the lifeboat boarding area on deck 6. We were directed to our lifeboats and given further information by Second Officer Kirill Buriachek and Third Officer Don Buren, who would be the masters of these vessels in the (very unlikely) event of us having to use them. Afterwards, at 18:15pm, guests received a welcome and orientation briefing from our Hotel Manager William and EL Eduardo. After this was the important matter of dinner time (a wonderful buffet provided by head Chef Ralf and his team) it was time for the third and final briefing of the evening, a video presentation from AECO (the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators) which informs visitors regarding correct behaviour towards the environment, people and wildlife of the Arctic. After a day of travel and lots of important information many of us headed to bed to be well rested for our first full day of expedition tomorrow.

Day 2: Lilliehöökbreen and Fjortende Julibukta ship cruise; Ny-Ålesund

Lilliehöökbreen and Fjortende Julibukta ship cruise; Ny-Ålesund
Datum: 10.06.2022
Positie: 79°03’.9 N, 011°30’.3 E
Wind: N 5
Weer: Overcast
Luchttemperatuur: +2

After our first night on the ship, we started our morning looking at a gigantic glacier, Lilliehöökbreen. This glacier is 11 km wide and surrounded our ship like an amphitheater. After breakfast everybody was invited to enjoy the beautiful surroundings and even though it was quite chilly outside many people were to be found on the decks taking photographs. During this morning we had several mandatory briefings including the zodiac briefing and the AECO animation movie explaining the ‘do’s and don’ts’ in the Arctic. The expedition staff also handed out the muck boots this morning and we did a bio-security check to make sure we all had clean clothing before landing. On our way back towards the afternoon landing, Ny-Ålesund, we made a stop in the bay that was originally planned, Fjortende Julibukta. Here we made a short ship’s cruise to observe the cliffs situated at the water level and high up in hills to spot a wide diversity of birds. Here we have been able to see Atlantic Puffin, Black Guillemot, Brunnich’s Guillemot, Kittiwake, Glaucous Gull and Barnacle Geese. After this short stop we made our way to Ny-Ålesund through the wide Kongsfjorden while enjoying our lunch in the restaurant. The afternoon activity started out a little bit splashy with 20 knots winds and relatively high waves. It was a great first experience to see how well everybody had listened to the Zodiac briefing! Nobody fell in to the water so we can surely say that everybody did an excellent job! Arriving at Ny-Ålesund we had some free time to explore the most northern research town in the world. There were several attractions to see like the museum, green harbor house, Amundsen´s villa and statue and the dog kennel. There was also enough time to look around in the Kongsfjordbutikken, the settlement’s store, where they had many different souvenirs available. Many people took this opportunity to buy a postcard to send to friends and family. In the old post office there was a chance to have your passport marked with a unique stamp stating the latitude and altitude of the town. Everybody also had the chance to make a walk to the historic mast which was built to anchor down the air ships ‘Norge’ and ‘Italia’. This was a short hike starting at the Chinese research station. This had to be offered as a guided hike because we would be situated beyond the city limits and this is considered polar bear territory which could be dangerous. Luckily we met no polar bears on the trail and the only mammals we did see were three harmless Svalbard Reindeer. Several bird species were seen including Snow Bunting and Ruddy Turnstone and an incredibly interesting story, explained by the expedition staff, about the mast. It certainly was a successful and beautiful hike. On our way back the weather had luckily died down a bit and we could get back to the ship without too much water on our faces. To end our day we had a visit from our Captain Artur Iakovlev to give a small speech to welcome us on the ship during our daily Recap. After our Expedition Leader, Eduardo, explaining what our plans were for the next day together with the weather forecast. Some of the staff also held short lectures about some interesting subjects like Sara speaking about beach clean-ups, Claudio talked about his studies regarding the diet of Svalbard reindeer and George about which countries are classed to be part of the Arctic. All together this made for an excellent first day ending it all with a delicious dinner from our Head Chef Ralf.

Day 3: Smeerenburg and Indre Norskoya

Smeerenburg and Indre Norskoya
Datum: 11.06.2022
Positie: 79°44.9’ N, 011°01.2’ E
Wind: Variable 1
Weer: Overcast
Luchttemperatuur: +1

This morning we heard the usual morning ‘bing bong’ expecting Expedition Leader Eduardo’s voice to then tell us the plan of the day. But wait… he actually told us to get out of bed as soon as possible because Fritz from the Expedition Team, just spotted three Polar Bears on Smeerenburg, our proposed landing site of the morning! Wait, what?! We couldn’t believe our ears! Yes, a female and her two cubs were feeding on a seal right in front of the bow of the ship. Everyone quickly walked (because we don’t run on ship, for safety) outside to try to see them. What a show for this early morning! As we were called for breakfast, Eduardo was already creating plan B, because with the bears present we were unable to go to land at Smeerenburg. It was decided to do a zodiac cruise to get a closer view of the bears. We were careful not to approach too closely with our zodiacs but they were the shore was obstructed by sea ice anyway so we could not get too near. 9:30am we all jumped into a zodiac and started to make our way towards these iconic Arctic animals. The sea was a bit rocky due to the wind, but we did not care to get wet as we knew we would have an amazing sighting! The two large cubs, at least in their second year, were playing and feeding with their mum keeping an eye on them from closeby. We spent around an hour there just trying to take the perfect photo! Before heading back to the ship the Expedition Team decided to go see the walrus that were hauling on the other site of the landing site, near the historic blubber ovens. What a cruise: walrus and polar bear during the same morning! We went back to the ship as the wind was picking up and the weather was getting colder. We were happy to get back to get a warm drink, shower and a delicious lunch. Most of the conversation revolved around the animals we witnessed that morning! After lunch astronomer Lothar gave his lecture about the Arc of Meridian which was an expedition that measured the length of the meridian in the polar region and to confirm the shape of the earth. In the meantime, the ship was sailing toward our afternoon landing and most of the staff were scouting the shore to find more majestic wildlife. Thanks to Expedition Guide Meike we were treated with another Polar Bear on shore! AMAZING! As we knew the drill by now, we were called to get in the zodiacs to go for a closer look. The wind had calmed down, the sea had flattened and the temperature had risen. We were in for an exceptional afternoon! As we arrived, the bear was sleeping in a little pit it had dug in the snow. We were distracted by a very unusual sighting: a Black Kite feeding on some blubber! It is extremely abnormal to see this species of bird so far north and all the birders were very excited. Finally, the bear awoke up and started to have a little stroll around. After enjoying a bit more bear action we proceeded to the other side of the island towards some bird nesting cliffs. We were still a bit early in the season and most of the birds were not there yet. However, we could still see some Atlantic Puffins in the water with their colorful beaks, some Brünnich’s Guillemots with their penguin-like shape and black and white colouration, and some walrus in the water and on the ice. The soft light helped us to get some beautiful shots. The time went by so fast and after two and a half hours of cruising we returned to the ship. We could not believe how lucky we had been with this amazing wildlife filled day! During the evening’s recap, Expedition Leader Eduardo informed us about the plan for tomorrow. This was followed by Fritz who talked about the Arctic Tern, the bird with the longest migration of any bird species and Koen who talked about the history of Smeerenburg. This old Dutch whaling settlement on a small sandy piece of land had numerous homes and blubber ovens when it was operational. After dinner, we all went to bed with beautiful memories of the day and excitement for what would follow for the rest of our trip!

Day 4: Crozierpynten and Kinnvika

Crozierpynten and Kinnvika
Datum: 12.06.2022
Positie: 79°55.4’ N, 016°44.6’ E
Wind: Variable 1
Weer: Overcast
Luchttemperatuur: +3

At the recap yesterday Expedition Leader, Eduardo, had been summarizing the incredible wildlife encounters we had that day and finished by saying that he hoped we could make it even better during the rest of the trip. Everybody smiled, some even laughed; it just couldn’t get better, could it? Well… The Expedition Staff scouting team had gone ashore at Crozierpynten and were covering the area inland from the landing site. On the bridge two more team members were also scouting from there, scanning the whole area with binoculars, when Hazel spotted a Polar Bear swimming towards the bow of Hondius! It was about 500 metres ahead of the ship to Starboard and heading in the general direction of the landing site. On the shore, Eduardo was urgently informed and he ordered an immediate evacuation. The team then undertook a calm, controlled removal in line with our protocols and training. With everybody safe and the bear now ashore, a plan was put together to launch a full ship zodiac cruise to hopefully get better views. The first zodiac launched quickly resighted the bear and, amazingly, it had killed a Harbour Seal and was feeding on the carcass! This was in perfect view of the now assembled flotilla of zodiacs. We believe this very malnourished bear was a young male and he was heartily tucking in to his meal. After an hour or so of enraptured gazing at this bear (and taking thousands of photos) we decided to cruise the bay and found a Svalbard Reindeer and a swimming Walrus. We thought the morning could not get any better, but then yet another Polar Bear was spotted! This one was swimming in the drift ice. All the zodiacs kept a respectful distance as it made its way to shore, clearly heading straight for the beach where the first bear was feeding on his seal kill. As the second bear hauled itself ashore it was immediately obvious that this was a much larger, healthier individual (we believe this was an adult female). Bear number two easily drove the first bear off the kill and began to feed. The smaller bear, desperately hungry, made several attempts to get back to the seal but the larger bear repeatedly chased it away. Eventually it lay down in the snow a little way from the kill and seemed to be waiting in the hope that some scraps may be left once bear two had had its fill. Even the most experienced among our Arctic Expedition Guides were left amazement by what we had just witnessed. After lunch there was a split landing planned. Whilst half the guests enjoyed a presentation from Laura on ‘Sea Ice’ in preparation for our day amongst it tomorrow, the other half were shuttled ashore to view the remains of the research station at Kinnvika, the site of a joint Swedish/Finnish venture to measure the curvature of the world and to prove that the earth is not perfectly spherical, but flattened at both poles. Given all the bear activity that had scuppered our landing plans, this was our first ‘proper’ walk on wild Svalbard…at least for some! Towards the end of the first walk a Polar Bear was sighted in the distance by the guide team and confirmed by the bridge team. An evacuation was immediately ordered by the expedition leader, our first involving guests. An orderly, controlled evacuation took place to the great credit of both the staff and the guests involved, who were calm and followed orders throughout. Back onboard they were rewarded with a warm drink whilst listening to a repeat performance of Laura’s lecture on sea ice. Unable to now land because of the bear, the second group were offered a zodiac cruise to see the station from the water and were treated to a cute seal pup rolling on the ice. A nice gentle end to a mega exciting day!

Day 5: A Day in the Sea Ice

A Day in the Sea Ice
Datum: 13.06.2022
Positie: 80°38.0’ N, 011°17.7’ E
Wind: NE 2
Weer: Overcast
Luchttemperatuur: 0

Today M/V Hondius brought us into the pack ice. This felt like another world; you really got the feeling that we were floating around in the middle of nowhere in an area that is completely hostile towards humans. Everywhere you turned there was ice, right to the horizon. Many people allowed their minds to wander, pondering the beauty of the natural world and thinking of historic exploration; those brave souls who ventured into the ice in wooden ships and may have experienced a long winter of darkness in the North polar region. We felt entirely safe and secure with our Ice Class 6 ship with all the necessities and luxuries on board, including healthy food to avoid scurvy and a warm lounge to avoid frostbite! Binoculars were raised throughout the day as we spotted numerous birds including Ivory Gull and a juvenile Sabine’s Gull and marine mammals such as Bearded Seals hauled out and resting on the ice. We also had multiple lectures given by the expedition staff covering the following subjects: the Arctic Megafauna (Polar Bears and Walrus) by Hazel, Fulmars and Skuas by Meike and Andrew and finally geology and politics of the Arctic by Laura and George. We saw many footprints of polar bears around on the ice, however we were not able to spot one on this day. Hot chocolate with rum and cream on the bow of our ship definitely helped to ease the grip of the cold weather!

Day 6: Magdelenafjorden

Magdelenafjorden
Datum: 14.06.2022
Positie: 79°35.8’ N, 010°58.3’ E
Wind: N 2
Weer: Overcast
Luchttemperatuur: +3

We woke up under a grey sky with snow falling, but the wild landscape compensated for this true Arctic weather. While we were slowly waking up, the Expedition staff were already getting ready for the day ahead. At 7:30am Hotel Manager William called us for breakfast and, whilst eating, we were admiring the beautiful landscape that Magdelenafjorden had to offer outside the windows. Beautiful, dark mountain peaks up to 900 metres surrounded us, white snow melting away as the spring takes hold and replaces it with patches of green mosses. At 8:30am we were invited to meet at the shelf door to board zodiacs to our landing site, Gullybukta. The landing was split between a small walk toward the walrus haul out and a zodiac cruise. As we got outside, we could feel the cold air of the Arctic Ocean. On shore around twelve Walrus could be seen; these giant beasts were playing and hunting in the water and they were surprisingly active for such big mammals that usually like to just sleep on the beach! We could have spent the whole day there watching their antics but we then swapped groups and enjoyed a zodiac cruise. We took some time journeying along the shore to observe the different birds of the area and the beautiful glacier opposite the landing site. As a finale to the zodiac cruise we were back around the walruses, this time viewing them from the water. Some curiously swam around the zodiacs but we made sure to keep a safe distance; sharp tusks and inflated boats do not mix! Those not ashore or zodiac crusing listened to Eduardo’s talk about GPS (Global Positioning Systems) and how this small piece of equipment, that is so useful, was created. This was followed by lunch. Even though we were always well fed on board, we were still famished as we stepped into the dining room after the morning’s excitement! The restaurant was buzzing as everyone was discussing our adventure of the morning with our fellow passengers. After lunch and a well-deserved rest, we were called back to the zodiac for another cruise deep into the fjord. The overcast sky was actually fantastic for photographing bright blue glacial ice that had drifted down from Waggonwaybreen glacier at the end of the fjord. We also enjoyed seeing beautiful birds, like King Eider Ducks and Arctic Terns, in addition to a delightful encounter with Harbour Seals swimming playfully around our zodiacs. As much as we admired the glacier, we could see it was not in the best shape with some brown and grey patches that are indicative of a retreating glacier. When a glacier retreats it erodes the rocks around it leaving a large amount of rock dust on the ice. While we were driving back to the ship we began to feel the cold so we all began dreaming of the warm shower that awaited us back in our cabins. Back on board everyone met in the lounge for the penultimate recap. It was almost the end of the trip, but we were still excited to think of the fauna, flora and landscape we might still encounter on our final day of exploration. At 6:30am Eduardo, our Expedition Leader, invited us in the lounge to show tomorrow’s plan. This was followed by a video made by guide Dorette showing what is achievable in terms of filming your travels using a smart phone and Hazel delivered a lighthearted short talk about sailor’s tattoos and their traditional symbolic meanings. The day ended with a delicious BBQ outside on Aft deck 5 prepared by Head Chef Ralf and his team and the dining staff. This was the perfect way to finish the day! We enjoyed the fantastic food surrounded by the beauty of the wild Arctic then finished the night with some dancing for those who still had the energy at the end of this full day of excitement!

Day 7: St. Jonsfjorden and Isfjorden

St. Jonsfjorden and Isfjorden
Datum: 15.06.2022
Positie: 78°30.7’ N, 012°49.2’ E
Wind: NW 2
Weer: Overcast
Luchttemperatuur: +3

So began our final full day around Svalbard, starting with a split landing. Half the guests remained on board Hondius to enjoy its fabulous facilities and take in an informative presentation by Georgina on Arctic photography. The other half were taken ashore for the longest planned walk of the whole cruise (providing that no polar bears showed up to change our plans!) Firstly, there was a trek up from the beach landing site to view a trapper’s hut (still in use and available for hire!) where we learnt about how it was originally a base for trapping polar bear and arctic fox for their fur. From there we continued to walk to higher ground to enjoy the views of this hugely impressive fjord. Wildlife seen included many confiding Purple Sandpipers, which really attracted the photographers, Snow Bunting, Reindeer, Arctic Tern, Arctic Skua and a flyover of Pink-footed Geese. When the guests swapped over from ship to shore and vice versa, one walking group was enchanted when a stunning male Rock Ptarmigan dropped in, landing almost at their feet. Modelling its finest all white winter plumage, it was an irresistible avian super model for every ‘paparazzi’ camera around. Finally came the opportunity for the infamous ‘Polar Plunge’: a brief dip into icy cold Arctic water from the beach. Were those who took part brave or mad? You decide! After lunch, Head Chef Ralf was kind enough to give up his time to give a presentation on how to provision and cater for polar expedition cruises. As always, it is one of the most informative and pleasurable talks for guests, who come away with a new understanding and appreciation of the amazing logistics that go on out of sight until it is presented so beautifully on the plate in front of them. Later, everyone presented themselves at reception to settle their bills and then popped down to the equipment store to return their muck boots. All the while Hondius was cruising down the fjord, eventually turning south enter open water towards our final destination of Longyearbyen, via the magnificent peak of Alkhornet and beautiful Tryghammna fjord. In the evening we gathered for a final time to join the Captain’s farewell party with cocktails and to view photographers Georgina & Juan’s superb slideshow. This was made available to be copied and taken home as a unique momento of our incredible expedition cruise!

Day 8: Longyearbyen - Disembarkation

Longyearbyen - Disembarkation
Datum: 16.06.2022
Positie: 78°14.0’ N, 015°38.0’ E
Wind: NW 4
Weer: Overcast
Luchttemperatuur: +8

Surely our Arctic adventure was not over already?! Sadly yes, after our final wake-up call at 7:00am by Expedition Leader Eduardo it was time for our last breakfast on board M/V Hondius. Passengers disembarked via the gangway and were reunited with their luggage before boarding the awaiting coaches or strolling into the town. Everyone said goodbye to the friendly Expedition Team and departed, smiling and reflecting upon a wonderful expedition cruise! Thank you all for travelling with us on this voyage; for your enthusiasm, support and good company. We very much hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be! Total distance sailed on our voyage: 821.5 nautical miles Furthest North: 80°42.00’ N, 11°00.98’ E On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Artur Iakovlev, Expedition Leader Eduardo Rubio Herrera, Hotel Manager William Barnes, and all the crew and staff of M/V Hondius, it has been a pleasure travelling with you.

Details

Reiscode: HDS03-22
Reisdatum: 9 jun. - 16 jun., 2022
Duur: 7 nachten
Schip: m/v Hondius
Inscheping: Longyearbyen
Ontscheping: Longyearbyen

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Aboard m/v Hondius

Hondius is het eerste geregistreerde Polar Class 6-schip ter wereld dat voldoet aan de nieuwste en hoogste Lloyd's Register-normen voor ijsversterkte cruiseschepen.

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