HDS09-19, trip log, Around Spitsbergen

by Oceanwide Expeditions

Logboek

Day 1: Embarkation, Longyearbyen

Embarkation, Longyearbyen
Datum: 23.07.2019
Positie: 78°13’.62 N, 015°38’.50 E
Wind: SW3
Weer: overcast
Luchttemperatuur: +6

The sun was shining as the planes landed in Longyearbyen, our main harbour where our adventure would begin later on that afternoon.

Pablo and Mariela were waiting at the airport for the last group to arrive on the afternoon flight, so we could have a quick walk around downtown before heading to the town’s jetty. Hondius, our brand-new ship, home for the next ten days, was at anchor in the bay, and we needed to be shuttled by Zodiac.

We gathered at the local pier for a safety briefing by Melissa on “How to don a lifejacket”, followed by instructions by Laurence on how to board a small boat from a floating jetty. We were already professionals by the time we arrived to the shell doors, where we had the crew and staff waiting for us and guiding us to reception for the check in.

After being shown to our cabins by the Hotel team, we headed to the outer decks to enjoy the view of the town. Longyearbyen, an old mining settlement founded by John Munroe Longyear from the US, has attracted explorers of different nationalities in search of minerals, seals, whales or the conquest of the furthest North latitudes. Now it was our turn to become modern-day expedition sailors and embark on an adventure of discovery.

After a mandatory safety briefing delivered by our Hotel Manager Michael, and the Chief
Officer Matei, followed by a safety drill, we were ready for a delicious first dinner in the dining room while enjoying the view. Did I mention that this was an “Expedition” cruise? We had to delay dinner as a pod of Beluga showed up right before dinner. More than 100 individuals were swimming around the vessel which distracted us and kept us out on deck for a good 40 minutes.

Now we were ready to enjoy our first meal onboard, and head to bed after a few more pictures on our way out of Isfjord. What a great start of a voyage!

Day 2: Lillehöökbreen and Ny-Ålesund

Lillehöökbreen and Ny-Ålesund
Datum: 24.07.2019
Positie: 79°19’.4 N, 011°36’.6 E
Wind: NNW3
Weer: partly cloudy
Luchttemperatuur: +7

We received our first wake-up call onboard at 7:30 am to find ourselves in Lilliehöökfjord, sailing under sunny skies towards one of the scenic highlights of this area, Lilliehöökbreen, the largest glacier in Krossfjord with its 11 km wide, semi - circular ice front. After an 8 am breakfast, most of us headed to the outside decks to photograph and marvel at this natural wonder.

At 9:15am we gathered in the lounge for staff introductions, with a brief story of how each had come to work in the Arctic, followed by the mandatory briefings required to go on zodiac landings - AECO (Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators) Arctic protocol, and zodiac operations. At 11:15am we headed down to Deck 3, where we were assigned our muck boots and life jackets we would need for our landings, during the course of the voyage. Our expedition had truly begun.

Over lunch we sailed into Kongsfjorden, to be in position for our afternoon landing at Ny-Ålesund, the northern most permanent settlement on earth - and the only community in Svalbard not destroyed during WWII. The former coal mining village is now a scientific community operating under the Norwegian Polar Institute research governance.

At 1:30pm the Hondius docked alongside the Ny-Ålesund pier and we began to disembark for a leisurely afternoon roaming amongst the town’s historic buildings, visiting the museum, hiking, shopping and mailing postcards home from the northern most post office in the world. The historic village is one of the most significant locations for Arctic exploration and the launch point for numerous expeditions to the North Pole, including Roald Amundsen’s 1925 failed attempt in 2 “flying boats”, the N25 & N26, and his successful second attempt in the Italian built “air ship” Norge, with American financier Lincoln Ellsworth and Italian ship designer, Umberto Nobile in 1926.

Our lite walks begin in the center of town at the Roald Amundsen bust and took those joining past a flock of Barnacle Geese and their chicks and Eider ducks on the way to “The Mast”, the 35-meter mooring mast of the Norge and Nobile’s doomed second flight in the airship Italia in 1928.

Those who took the longer hikes continued past the Mast and onto a distant ridge behind the town, which gave magnificent views back down across Kongsfjorden. The lucky hikers on this trip spotted an artic fox feasting on a Barnacle Goose carcass it had stolen from a Glaucus Gull, and also spotted Harbor Seals and Svalbard Reindeer in the distance.

Back on board, our expedition leader, Flo, gave us a preview of our next day’s landings and then introduced our captain, Remmert Jan Koster, who joined us in the observation lounge, to welcome us on board and toast the success of the rest of the voyage with a glass of bubbly.

At 7:00pm we headed for the dining room for a four-course dinner and to share with our fellow travelers, the excitement of our day on expedition at the top of the world.

Day 3: Texas Bar, Monacobreen and Moffen Island

Texas Bar, Monacobreen and Moffen Island
Datum: 25.07.2019
Positie: 79°36’.4 N, 012°45’.3 E
Wind: SW2
Weer: partly cloudy
Luchttemperatuur: +3

On our third day onboard M/V Hondius, we started our morning with delicious breakfast and then got ready for our first excursion of the day. In this opportunity, we visited Texas Bar. A trapper’s hut, built in 1929 and used for decades by hunters, and nowadays, belonging to the Syssellmannen, the government and police force of Svalbard, who uses it for logistics and snowmobile trips from Longyearbyen.

The excursion started with the long hikers landing on a distant beach, and circling over the mountains to reach Texas Bar. The rest of us landed straight in front of the hut, and took a shorter hike to have an overview of the bay and glacier that sits north east of the landing site. By the end of our visit, some of us were brave enough to take a polar plunge! An invigorating experience that we will certainly never forget.

As we had lunch, the ship was repositioned a couple of miles into the bay, were zodiacs were dropped and shortly after lunch, we went for a cruise through the ice in the bay in front of Monaco Glacier.

Here we were able to enjoy the experience of driving through the brash ice, look at some seals that were swimming around the boats and Great Skuas, Arctic Terns and Kittiwake Gulls that were feeding in the productive waters of the bay.

After our afternoon expedition, we were ready to get back to the ship for a recapitulation of the day, and briefing for tomorrows activities. Here the plan to visit the pack ice was revealed, with the amazing possibilities of wildlife that this implies. After dinner, we thought our day was over, but our expedition team had an extra activity, a visit to the remote island of Moffen.

Shortly after 21:45 hours, Moffen revealed itself in the distance and as we were approaching to our closest point, we were able to spot the sand bank and the Walrus haul outs, together with some seals swimming along the coast line. We spent a good 45 minutes watching the biggest pinniped in the Arctic go in and out of the water, the birds flying around including the Northern Fulmars displaying their soaring pattern, and the beautiful light that embellished the horizon.

It was now time to pay a visit to Jake and Rolando at the bar before heading back to our cabins for a good rest before our next adventure in the pack ice.

Day 4: Pack Ice on the search of Polar Bears

Pack Ice on the search of Polar Bears
Datum: 26.07.2019
Positie: 80°36’.1 N, 017°05’.0 E
Wind: ENE2
Weer: overcast
Luchttemperatuur: 0

Very early morning, the expedition guides are already on the bridge looking for bears in the ice around 6 o’clock.

Around 7:40, the first bear is spotted, the ship slowly sails towards to it while the passengers are having breakfast. This bear is not in a good shape, it is in between grade 1 to 2, so the ship stayed quite far away. The bear walked a few steps, just laid down for the rest of the time. We left it along after a short while, but the day is still early.

Just before noon, another bear showed up, we spotted the bear far away, it was very interested in the ship, and came straight to it swimming. Surprisingly the bear swam around the ship, climbed up on the ice floe. People were looking at the bear and the bear was looking at the people too. While the bear swam around the ship, everyone walked around the ship with the bear quietly. The hotel department pushed back lunch for everyone so we could enjoy the time of this amazing encounter with this amazing bear. Thank you, hotel team.

After the nice meetings of the morning and a good lunch the expedition staff decided to move the ship in another area, always into the sea ice, to try to find other bears or spot other wildlife. After a couple of hours, we spotted another bear but unfortunately was far away from the ship and after few times we lost it from the bridge even if all the staff members were looking at it. However, we spotted another bear, this time a big specimen, which was having a meal with rests of seal. For this reason, we decided to stay a little bit away from the animal and give to it the possibility to finish the meal. At the end of it the bear moved away, in opposite direction of the ship, and we leaved the site.

After our amazing day in the ice with a lot of bears we get back to the lounge for our daily/briefing for the tomorrow’s activities. After dinner, we thought our day was over, but our expedition leader announced in the PA system the presence of… another bear! This meeting was completely unexpected and most of the people were almost sleeping. However, thanks to the quick communication in the system, almost all the people have the possibility to see the bear that at this time was eating a seal on the sea-ice.

After another incredible meeting, super happy for the day, all the people onboard went to sleep in order to be ready for the next expedition day… Thank you very much Arctic!!!

Day 5: Alkefjellet and Faksevågen

Alkefjellet and Faksevågen
Datum: 27.07.2019
Positie: 79°36’.0 N, 018°29’.5 E
Wind: N6
Weer: overcast
Luchttemperatuur: +7

At 7 o’clock in the morning, our expedition leader woke up us, and together with weather conditions we heard also information about our location and for sure it was special – Alkefjellet. Magnificent bird cliffs with over 60.000 breading pairs of Brunnich’s guillemots.

Already from the ship we could admire this outstanding wall of basalt and marble and thousands of birds flying around, but the best part waited for us after breakfast during the zodiac cruise.

During breakfast, weather conditions starting to change, wind picked up a bit in strength and waves grew up. The expedition team together with the bridge assessed conditions and decided to go ahead with the first round of cruisers, and already at 8:30 we were ready to board the zodiacs at the shell doors.

Boarding boats from the shell doors was a little bit challenging for some of us, who enjoyed the view from the ship, but sighting of the cliff worth every effort. From the distance, the Guillemots in the sky looked like mosquitoes during a hot summer in the tropics, and even more of them sitting on the high cliffs side by side, feather to feather, in tens of thousands.

During the zodiac cruise, we could also see foxes trying to catch birds on slopes covered with lush green grass. Unfortunately, wind and swell raised even more and we had to come back earlier and cancel the second cruise. The expedition team rushed to the office for planning the following activities and offered us a fantastic documentary movie about predators in the Arctic, showcased in the lecture room.

During lunch, Captain and Officers on watch repositioned Hondius to Faksevågen, located in Lomfjorden. By then, skies finally cleared up and we could make a landing inside the beautiful bay surrounded with high plateaus and valleys filled with old moraines.

After a day full of activities and excitements, Michael, our Hotel Manager, invited us for a special arctic dinner – bbq on the outside deck! And together with dancing rhythms of music we could drink and eat and finish the day with a huge smile.

Day 6: Palanderbukta and sailing South-West along Bråsvellbreen

Palanderbukta and sailing South-West along Bråsvellbreen
Datum: 28.07.2019
Positie: 79°36’.2 N, 020°42’.7 E
Wind: NW4
Weer: partly cloudy
Luchttemperatuur: +8

After yesterday’s reminder that arctic weather conditions are a big part of expedition cruising life, it was a pleasure to wake up this morning to calmer winds and sunny skies. We had traveled overnight to Palanderbukta, a beautiful fjord on the eastern side of Nordaustland. The second largest island in the Svalbard Archipelago, it hosts the fourth largest ice cap in the world next to Antarctica, Greenland and Novaya Zemlya: the Austfonna and Vegafonna ice caps. This meant that the area we were to explore is surrounded by ice thus keeping the average temperatures (even in the summer) quite cold.

The first ashore were the Fit, Fast and Furious who headed up the mountain at a brisk pace. They disappeared over the ridge and we did not see them again for a few hours. We later found out that they had covered about 6 km and 200 m in elevation. The rest of us took more time and stopped to learn about the things we were finding along our way, including a few footprints from a polar bear that had passed by not long before.

Along with the frigid climate, the region is considered a polar desert with less than 10 in/25.4 cm of annual moisture and the barrenness of the land is impressive. Those plants we did find were reduced in size but incredibly hardy given the short growing season and severe conditions. One wonderful surprise was the abundance of the Svalbard poppy which has a tendency toward dry ground with lime content. This was the perfect place for them given the geology.

The rock is mostly limestones and sandstones deposited in ancient seas millions of years ago when this land was closer to the equator. Transported here through the action of plate tectonics, the repeated periods of glacial scouring and freeze/thaw cycles have taken their toll on this evolving landscape. We saw interesting examples of frozen ground with areas of sorted rock circles prominent in some areas and rocks fractured by years of weathering scattered throughout our walks. Some of the rocks we found contained a myriad of fossils – mostly bivalves with a few examples of corals as well.

After a lovely lunch back on board, we headed off to the south for a place called Torellneset, a place often visited by walrus. Upon approaching the beach where we expected to find them, we were surprised to find no one home. While a bit disappointing, it was good to know that our team already had other locations in mind for us to have time with these iconic arctic species - returning to Svalbard after early hunting nearly wiped them out of the area completely. So, the decision was made to continue south toward the large glacier front on the southwest side of Nordaustland but again the arctic weather foiled our plans, this time with fog. Ahh, the trials of travel in the polar regions… Well, we shall have a good sleep and hope for new experiences tomorrow.

Day 7: Freemansundet and Kapp Lee

Freemansundet and Kapp Lee
Datum: 29.07.2019
Positie: 78°11’.5 N, 022°05’.9 E
Wind: SSW4
Weer: fog
Luchttemperatuur: +3

The day started with a bang, in fact, many bangs, and plenty of crashes too. Overnight the bridge team carefully navigated Hondius through the maze of thick sea ice in Erik Eriksenstredet; the large embayment between Nordaustlandet, Barentsøya, and Edgeøya. Some of us stayed up late, a few woke up extra early, and a really dedicated group of people stayed up the whole night, watching the world of ice go by and spotting a group of walruses hauled out on a large ice floe.

By the time of the wake-up call we found ourselves in the mirror-calm waters of Freemansundet, the narrow strait between the tabular landscapes of Barentsøya, and Edgeøya. The weather was gorgeous, the early morning sun bathed the barren desert landscape in soft yellow light, there was not a breath of wind, and it was a balmy 3°C – a beautiful summer day in the Arctic.

As we sat down to breakfast Shelli announced that there were Beluga visible quite close to the ship on the port side; we caught a couple of glimpses of these reclusive Arctic whales from the dining room windows. We headed through the strait bound for our morning destination, Kapp Lee.

As we rounded the corner into Storfjorden we found a thick bank of fog looming over the water, Hondius steamed into it and were immediately enveloped in a cold, gloomy world of swirling mist. We neared Kapp Lee, but it was obvious that conditions were not great and landing to visit the walrus would be unsafe. Instead, Florence decided to switch our plans for the day, we would head out of the fog to Sundneset, which was not far away off our stern and was still in glorious sunshine.

However, nature had one more trick up her sleeve this morning; as we steamed towards the new landing site, we heard an announcement – a polar bear had just been spotted on shore, right at the landing site! This obviously meant that we could not land here either. Instead we congregated on the bow as the officers on the bridge brought Hondius close in to the shallow shore, pushing the limits to give us a view of the bear on land.

An impromptu lecture was arranged; Pierre gave a really interesting talk about humpback whales, giving insight into these wonderful, intelligent creatures. We found out that they have recently been discovered to show empathy, not just to family members or other humpback whales, but also to other species including grey whales, seals, and even humans. We learned that there are over 100 documented cases of humpbacks protecting other species from predation by sharks and killer whales, a remarkable trait and the hallmark of a very intelligent animal.

Whilst we tucked into another sumptuous lunch, we cruised back towards Kapp Lee, hoping the weather was good enough to see the walrus. As we neared the coast we were again enveloped in thick fog, but the expedition team launched two scout zodiacs to see if the conditions on the beach were any better. After half an hour they returned with mixed news, conditions were very foggy and it would not be possible to land because of the risk of bear encounters.

However, there would be a zodiac cruise instead to see the walrus from the water. We all piled into the zodiacs at the shell doors and our drivers followed their GPS’ through the fog to the beach. As we quietly approached the shore, we could start to make out the dark mass of the mountainside looming out of the mist above us. A little closer in and we could suddenly see the beach with the shapes of the cabins, and then finally we could see the walrus!

A group of males slumbered in peace in this remote Arctic beach, digesting stomachs full of shellfish. As we got closer, we began to smell them too, the aroma of slowly fermenting seafood was pretty strong and we were glad to be in fresh air shortly after! We made several slow passes of the walrus, careful to keep our voices low and movements to a minimum, and just as we had all had a good look at them and were turning to leave several joined us in the water, lazily swimming over to check us out before exhaling and disappearing beneath the waves.

In the evening we convened for our daily briefing and the evening recap. We heard about the plans for the coming day; a day of expedition cruising in Hornsund – ‘Svalbard in a fjord’. We had the answers to several burning questions from the trip question box and then Mariela gave an interesting presentation about Walruses. This included their evolution, habitat, breeding, and their unusual feeding techniques which involve sensing clams with their vibrissae (thick bristles which they can move individually), before creating suction with their mouths to pluck the meat straight from the shell!

The evening was spent luxuriating over dinner, taking time to enjoy the views and swap stories from the trip so far as we steamed south through Storfjorden. A few of us made it to the bar for a nightcap, a nice way to end another interesting day in the high Arctic.

Day 8: Hornsund: Burgerbukta and Samarinbreen

Hornsund: Burgerbukta and Samarinbreen
Datum: 30.07.2019
Positie: 77°04’.4 N, 015°59’.1 E
Wind: SW4
Weer: overcast
Luchttemperatuur: +6

We woke up with a nice blue sky, the ship was surrounded by nice green and brownish mountains.

We started the day with a nice great zodiac cruise in Burgerbukta bay, into the western fjord: Vest Burgerbukta in Norwegian.

This long fjord is surrounded by mountains with waterfalls and water surges. We cruised among icebergs, and did a few stops to enjoy the blue color of the old ice detaching from the glaciers to become bergy bits.

We could also listen to the sound of the air bubbles exploding under pressure when the fresh ice entered in contact with the salty water from the sea. We shut down our engines, sat down comfy on the pontoons, and enjoyed the sound of nature. Something we felt very privileged to be able to do.

At the top of the mountains above us, about 500 meters above our heads, we could see a colony of kittiwakes on the cliff. This species usually nest together among hundreds of couples. Taking advantage of the upwelling currents created by the subglacial rivers and calving, which bring food up to the surface of the sea, these gulls love to hang out in large groups very close to the glacier front.

We cruised along the front of the glacier, to finally found ourselves in front of the lateral morain on the side of it. The clouds above our heads had amazing shapes and colors, pushed away by different winds on the top of the mountains.

After one hour and a half going through the fjord, we went back on board to enjoy another delicious lunch prepared by the galley team.

In the afternoon, we relocated to our planned location but as the fog was too thick there, we decided to go explore further into Samarinvågen fjord and we found a beautiful area with a big glacier at the end of the bay: Samarinbreen, where some us started doing a nice Zodiac cruise along the front of it, while the other half of us landed at a small cove to hike up a hill towards the glacier moraine.

We had very nice weather, no wind, sunshine and good visibility over the glacier. We were super lucky and excited to be able to walk on the ice and continue to the top of the hill where we had a wonderful view of the glacier.

Day 9: Poolepynten and Alkhornet

Poolepynten and Alkhornet
Datum: 31.07.2019
Positie: 78°26’.2 N, 011°59’.0 E
Wind: NNW3
Weer: overcast
Luchttemperatuur: +3

Today we started the day with a landing on the long-awaited site of Poolepynten, where a nice colony of walrus has established itself. There were about 20 walruses hauled out on the beach and we were able to slowly approach and observe them on their daily routine.

There were also some walruses in the water and it was very interesting to watch them interact with each other and walk onto the beach. We were all impressed by their size and the length of their tusks. These walruses are believed to have recolonized Svalbard from Franz Josef Land after the local population had been exterminated by hunters in the past.

Most walruses in these waters nowadays are males, but some females with pups have been observed, indicating that there is a new local population establishing itself in Svalbard. A jolly good piece of news!

We were all happy to get back on board for a nice cup of hot tea, after which we had lunch. Finishing lunch, we had a sighting of a Minke whale, and soon after of a Fin whale very close to the ship.

In the afternoon, we sailed to Alkhornet and the weather there was beautiful. Blue sky, hot sun and calm waters. The landing was an excellent choice and we were able to observe the bird colony on the majestic cliff. There were a lot of reindeer around which did not mind our presence and offered us great photographic opportunities. The tundra here was rich with several species of flowers, and the view around us was breathtaking. A couple of foxes traversed the secured area and let themselves be photographed easily.

Back on the ship, the hotel team was waiting for us in the lounge for the captain’s cocktail and the farewell talk of our expedition leader Flo. All in all, it was a fabulous trip where we managed to do our first circumnavigation of Spitsbergen, we saw numerous polar bears, and we shared incredible experiences in these beautiful sceneries of Svalbard.

We slowly cruised back to Longyearbyen through calm waters and with an incredible sun. This was a trip that none of us will forget.

Day 10: Longyearbyen

Longyearbyen
Datum: 01.08.2019
Positie: 78°14’.61 N, 015°32’.60 E
Wind: S1
Weer: sunny
Luchttemperatuur: +6

Our last day started on the first hours of Thursday as some of us had to disembark shortly after midnight to catch the early flight at 2 am. As the crew and staff were taking the luggage down to the pier, we made our way down the gangway for the last time. Waving goodbye to our lovely team, we started our journey back home.

Next morning, last wake-up call from our Expedition Leader (some will miss the sweet voice of Florence instead of the alarm chiming every morning) and breakfast was about to be served in the dining room before we disembarked Hondius.

At 8:30 am we were finally ready to give the last couple of hugs to the team and board the buses who will take us to our different destinations. Our journey of exploration was over, but the memories will remain with us forever. An Arctic expedition cruise is definitely something we cannot explain with words nor even with pictures; is a complex mix of feelings, smells, sounds, colours and textures that make the voyage an unforgettable experience.

Safe travels, we hope to see you back onboard soon!

Details

Reiscode: HDS09-19
Reisdatum: 23 Jul – 1 Aug, 2019
Duur: 9 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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