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PLA03-23, trip log, North Spitsbergen, In search of polar bear & pack ice

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Longyearbyen, embarkation day

Longyearbyen, embarkation day
Datum: 08.06.2023
Positie: 78°12.60’ N 15°32.6’ E
Wind: NW 2
Weer: Partly cloudy
Luchttemperatuur: +2

Many of the guests arrived at Longyearbyen on the day of embarkation. Throughout the afternoon, guests were arriving at our new home for the coming days: Plancius.

Once onboard the evening went by quickly as we were busy with familiarisations, safety briefings, and a mandatory lifeboat instruction.

As we set off out of Isfjord in the evening, and northward towards our first scheduled activity of the trip, there was time to enjoy the views of the flat table-topped mountains in the late evening light.

Then, after departure, we had an introduction to the ship from our hotel manager. This was followed by captain’s cocktails, where our expedition leader Ali introduced herself and shared the plans for the voyage. After a lovely first dinner on the ship, most of us went to enjoy the views outside while the ship was cruising, or went to bed early, after a very long day.

Day 2: St Jonsfjord & Poolepynten

St Jonsfjord & Poolepynten
Datum: 09.06.2023
Positie: 78°31.0’N / 012°50.6’E
Wind: Light air
Weer: Overcast
Luchttemperatuur: +2

First day of activities!

After departing Longyearbyen, we sailed overnight in a very calm sea towards the fjord where we would undertake our first activities: St. Jons Fjord. We dropped anchor very late in the night. Our ship was surrounded by a very atmospheric landscape, the sky was partially overcast and all the landscape around us could be described using only two colours: white and black. The peaks around us disappeared into the mist and the silence was impressive.

It was amongst this landscape where we spent the night. The day broke, covered in mist and fog. At some point we had fog and snow to the east and clear skies to the west. This morning Ali briefed our passengers about how to board zodiacs, polar bear safety and general behaviour ashore. While these briefings happened, the staff got ready to prepare the landing site in the northeast mouth of St. Johns Fjord, next to an old hunting cabin.

Staff organised a meticulous reconnaissance of the area, checking for the presence of polar bears. Once this was complete, we started with the landing operation. For this morning, we offered four options. A long walk lead by Elizabeth and Mattias, a medium walk led by Annelou and Fiona, a medium leisure walk led by Eduardo and Emily and a leisurely walk led by Ali and Carina.

The aim of the first three options was to give passengers a closer look to the front of the glacier located in the North part of the fjord, the Gaffelbreen glacier (from the Norwegian Gaffel, fork and breen glacier). The name is due to the convergence of two subsidiary glaciers at the front.

The first two walks went along the high moraine that allows akin of an aerial view of the glacier front and the fast ice that accumulates near its front.

The third walk went around the moraine keeping a low level. They reached the fast ice and from there they had a superb view of the glacier front.

The last walk enjoyed a view of the shore, near the landing site, walking around the area exploring for flowers, rocks, and views of the surrounding area. We all had the chance to see numerous birds such as ptarmigans, geese, common eiders, snow buntings and a couple of guillemots.

The landing party had the chance to have a quick view of the hut in this location. It was built in the late 60's and was used by the late trappers that came to Spitsbergen. The hut offers perspective to the visitors about how hard the life of these trappers was.

During the late morning, the weather improved and the overcast sky turned into a blue sky.

While lunch was being served, our bridge team repositioned the ship towards our next destination, Poolepynten.

For Poolepynten, we planned to do a landing aiming to have a closer look at walruses.

We arrived at the landing site shortly after 14:30 and very soon started our activities. Both groups had the chance to land successfully and to spend a good quality time with the colony. The whole landing occurred under very favourable circumstances and offered both, great views of the animals to our guests and fantastic views of the jagged landscape of the islands of Spitsbergen and Prins Karls Forland.

We returned to the ship shortly after 18:00, just in time for our daily recap, and a very well deserved meal in the evening. We hove anchor and headed south south-east first, aiming to turn around Prins Karls Forland Island.

At around 21:30, our skippers and watchman spotted blows in the horizon and as we came closer we had a phenomenal close encounter with three blue whales and a few humpback whales. Our officers and captain, maneuvered our ship in such a way so we could come closer but remain a safe distance from the whales where we could see them better. The encounter was memorable since many of our passengers managed to see the tiny dorsal fin of the blue whales on numerous occasions and a few even managed to see the enormous fluke of this giant of the seas.

After enjoying the whales for about 45 minutes, we headed further north to our next destination: Kongsfjord.

Day 3: Fjortende Julibukta and Lilliehöökbreen

Fjortende Julibukta and Lilliehöökbreen
Datum: 10.06.2023
Positie: 79°18.9’N / 011°30.0’E
Wind: Light air
Weer: Overcast
Luchttemperatuur: +2

The day started with an early morning wakeup call from our Expedition leader Ali, a pod of belugas had been spotted by our bridge team. What an amazing sight, a large pod with over 100 belugas could be seen, their blows glistening in the sunlight. As the pod came closer, many of us enjoyed an incredible bird’s eye view as they moved gracefully through the water.

After breakfast, the zodiacs were lowered as the expedition team prepared for a zodiac cruise. We spent over two hours exploring the bay, getting a sense of the sheer size of the Lilliehöökbreen glacier, photographing the varying shades of colour and the different ice formations. There were plenty of birds to see including, common eider ducks, long-tailed ducks, arctic terns, snow bunting and northern fulmars. Many of us experienced true Arctic silence as the zodiac engines were turned off. We could hear the crackle and popping of the ice as the air escaped, enjoying the stillness and the reflections of the surrounding peaks.

The kayakers enjoyed exceptionally calm paddling conditions during the morning, taking in the same sights and surroundings from the comfort of their kayaks.

After a short transit and a delicious lunch onboard, we arrived at 14 Julibukta. To make the most of the afternoon we had a split landing. Spending time onshore hiking across the tundra, seeing the wild flora starting to emerge, with some beautiful purple saxifrage. High up on the cliff face we observed kittiwakes in flight, listening to their loud calls. On the ground we were lucky enough to spot a few arctic foxes, one of the foxes still having half of its white winter coat. High up on the tundra a few Svalbard reindeer could be seen grazing.

During the zodiac cruise, the 14 Julibukta glacier was enjoyed from the water, together with kittiwakes resting on the smaller ice floes. Cruising along the shoreline we observed numerous Brunnich’s guillemots nesting on the edge of the cliffs, together with barnacle geese and puffins too. Another beautiful day in Svalbard.

Day 4: Day in the pack ice

Day in the pack ice
Datum: 11.06.2023
Positie: 80°02.2’N / 008°52.5’E
Wind: SSE 6
Weer: Rain
Luchttemperatuur: +4

This morning we passed 80 degrees north, the northernmost part of this trip and we reached the pack ice for the first time! What a sight to wake up to!

Around 07:30 in the morning we arrived at the edge of the pack ice and sailed straight into it. We could literally feel the rumble moving through the whole ship once we started pushing ice bergs out of our way. The ice was still very dense and in combination with strong winds from the south navigation was very difficult. The ice was even that thick and compact that we had to move into the open water again for a little while to be able to cover more ground and look for our white, fluffy friends: The polar bear.

The weather was typical for this far North: low temperatures (3 degrees Celsius), strong winds (25 knots) and a cloudy sky. The real Arctic experiences! Nevertheless, everyone was on deck: The guests, our crew and of course the expedition team. Despite the clouds, we were able to observe some interesting animals: Numerous kittiwakes and Arctic skuas took advantage of the updrafts on the ship and sailed alongside us. We even saw a few ivory gulls and guillemots.

The expedition team did not leave the bridge for the whole day! Glued to our binoculars we were determined to find a polar bear. Surrounded by ice and snow Annelou, our ice specialist and geographer on board, gave a presentation explaining all facts about sea ice and glaciers. There is no better way to learn about the Cryosphere (term for those portions of Earth's surface where water is in solid form) than by being surrounded by it.

We finished the day with a surprise barbecue on the aft deck. Dinner and after-party out on deck while being surrounded by the most surreal scenery: the Arctic ice sheet. Today we had the pleasure of experiencing the true Arctic and witness it’s icy and hostile environment along with typical weather conditions and beautiful ice formations. Unfortunately, we weren’t supposed to be lucky for polar bears today, but we all went to bed sending our hopes and wishes to the universe… and who knows… maybe our prayers will be heard…?

Day 5: Day in the pack ice & polar bears!

Day in the pack ice & polar bears!
Datum: 12.06.2023
Positie: 79°55.9’N / 011°48.0’E
Wind: SSW 3
Weer: Overcast
Luchttemperatuur: +4

Unbelievable! Can you put a day like the one we had today into words? No…

Where do we start? There was a gentle wake-up call from Ali/Eduardo this morning.

Strengthened by a wonderful breakfast, we were already sailing in the pack ice again. Then came the news: the polar bear had been found.

The polar bear, a female with her cub were laying on the ice just off of the island. But with our binoculars we could see the polar bears (with the help of the staff and the telescope) resting on the ice. We were busy watching these polar bears when suddenly we heard that we had belugas on the other side. What a spectacle. We didn't know where to look (as we know now, this was only the tip of the iceberg). Then we continued along the pack ice, again with belugas showing up along the ice.

We continued along the Raudfjord to Hamiltonbukta (Bukta = bay) our next destination. A zodiac cruise was announced, this zodiac cruise was unique! A sleeping polar bear was lying on an elevation right next to the beach. With nine zodiacs we came closer to the bear in snake formation. The bear was relaxed, sometimes stretching, raising its head, or changing its sleeping position. It was a great show that this polar bear gave us. Then the zodiacs travelled along the coast, ending with a great view of the Hamiltonbreen (Breen = glacier).

Back on the ship, the next announcement came immediately. We had a seal on an ice floe right next to the ship. It was a young ringed seal. As if that was not enough, the show continued with the next polar bear. We called him the polar bear on a mission. He went from ice floe to ice floe, sometimes walking and sometimes swimming. It was a great experience to watch such a polar bear moving around on the ice.

We decided to go back to the place we had visited in the morning. On the way there, we saw the polar bears moving around. After that we had dinner, and then recap. We were all sitting in the lounge when we were told that there were mating polar bears at 9 o'clock from the ship. Then the recap came after all, but only briefly to hear the plans for tomorrow and then it was straight back out on deck. Now things really got going and it ended as follows:

  • 12 o'clock from the ship: Arctic fox
  • 3 o'clock from the ship: Belugas
  • 6 a.m. from ship: pack ice and minke whale
  • 9 am from the ship: mating polar bears

Going to bed was almost impossible, nor could we bring ourselves to leave the deck and go for dinner. But at about 10 pm we left the pack ice again and headed for Ytre Norskoya, after such a wonderful day.

Day 6: Ytre Norskøya & Fuglesangen

Ytre Norskøya & Fuglesangen
Datum: 13.06.2023
Positie: 78°16.7’N / 014°00.5’E
Wind: SW 3
Weer: Snow
Luchttemperatuur: 0

We spent the night in open water just north of Raudfjord. While having breakfast Plancius arrived at the location for our first planned activity. Our Expedition team had the plan to bring us out for hiking at Ytre Norskøya. With full force we started, those willing to participate in the long hike reaching the top of the island embarked the Zodiacs first, all others followed. The area was deeply covered with snow, however some parts were snow free exposing the rich vegetation. We all started out on the flat tundra and walked towards the east coast of the island. The steep rocks we walked along were home to the Little Auks, Arctic Terns passed by and Snow Buntings sang their nicest song. In a little bay on the north side of the island some ice floes were caught and looked really nice. The long hikers managed to reach the top of the island by following a ridge, continuing over a high plateau descending on the other side of the mountain, making a loop. The way up was challenging, partway there were big stones overgrown with lichens, however all of us managed well. The other groups reached reached elevated positions to get a nice overview of the beautiful scenery. Guides put “moments of silence“ in our walk which we enjoyed.

Hungry we headed back to Plancius. After a while of relaxing our Expedition team offered us another excursion, at that time no hike as in the morning, a visit to a colony of Little Auks on an island named Fuglesangen. The island is right next to our morning landing site at Ytre Norskøya, also on the North-West corner of Spitzbergen. To improve the experience for everybody, our expedition team put us in the usual German and English-speaking groups. One group went on shore in order to see the colony from nearby, the other group went by zodiac to the area and had a look from a distance. After a while we swapped. However, at that time landing was difficult, due to big round stones overgrown by algae, which were really slippery. The experience near the colony was unbelievable, the tiny Little Auks were flying and passing by in huge flocks screaming to sit down in the next moment next to the breeding place. For some of us that short visit was the highlight of the trip. Birds seemed to have no fear at all sitting right next to us and watching.

In the evening hours Plancius manoeuvred through the island on the Northwest corner of Spitzbergen. A lot of us spent the evening relaxed, sitting, and chatting in the bar.

Day 7: Ymerbukta & Alkhornet

Ymerbukta & Alkhornet
Datum: 14.06.2023
Positie: 79°39.3’N / 011°05.2’E
Wind: WSW 4/7
Weer: Snow
Luchttemperatuur: +1

The morning began a bit windy! Our original plan was to land at Tordenskjoldbukta, but the landing site had too much swell and wind. Over to plan B! At around 9:00 we arrived at Ymerbukta, with the beautiful glacier called Esmarkbreen, named after a Norwegian mineralogist.

It was still quite windy, but many of us dared to go out with the zodiacs on a nice cruise. It was a bit splashy but every now and then the sun still came out, which we all enjoyed. We got into several leads of the fast ice and even spotted a seal. Numerous eider ducks and king eider ducks were around to enjoy. Cruising along the ice edge, we came closer to the glacier and behind the ridge near to the front, there was a beautiful chunky bearded seal resting. The cloud formation alternated by sun and blue sky created some lovely scenery. Going back to the ship, we left our nice, sheltered area, and got a bit wet again but that is why we wear waterproof clothing! Getting so close to the glacier was an impressive experience.

In the afternoon, we made a landing at the impressive Alkhornet. A beautiful, impressive peak with tundra below it, with lots of reindeer! The group split into several hikes, and we all spotted some arctic foxes. At the end, we even saw a mother fox feeding her pups in a den. Quite cute!

At 5, we gathered for some extra madness in this trip. Some of us had the insane wish to do a polar plunge! Most of us with some extra common sense watched from the sidelines. After this refreshing swim, we went back to the ship where we had recap and Captain’s cocktails. Ali summarized our beautiful voyage, with the final plans for tomorrow. Finally, the captain came and together we made a toast to our trip.

Elisabeth showed the beautiful slideshow she had been making during the trip, to have a memory you will never lose. Afterwards, we went to dinner for the final time.

This evening, processing all the new experiences from the past week, most of us stayed up chatting to newfound and old found friends, or went to bed early, preparing for our final morning tomorrow…

Day 8: Arrival back into Longyearbyen

Arrival back into Longyearbyen
Datum: 15.06.2023
Positie: 78°12.60’ N 15°32.6’ E
Wind: WSW 6
Weer: Snow
Luchttemperatuur: +1

Around midnight, 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.

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!


Reiscode: PLA03-23
Reisdatum: 8 jun. - 15 jun., 2023
Duur: 7 nachten
Schip: m/v Plancius
Inscheping: Longyearbyen
Ontscheping: Longyearbyen

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