HDS01-23, trip log, Arctic Ocean Expedition

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Vlissingen - Embarkation Day

Vlissingen  - Embarkation Day
Date: 03.06.2023
Position: 51°27.649’N / 003°41.806’E
Wind: NNE 5
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +21

Our journey begins with a coach ride to the port of Vlissingen, pulling up on the quay alongside m/v Hondius. She is looking splendid in the bright sunshine and would be our home for the next twelve days. Following our luggage on board, we are greeted by the enthusiastic, smiling staff and shown to our cabins.

Once settled in we all gather in the observation lounge for a mandatory safety drill, which includes an evacuation exercise, ending next to our designated lifeboat station. Back to the lounge we are treated to a glass of fizz and delicious canapes during which time Captain Toni Salo welcomes us on board. We then have initial briefings by the Deputy Hotel Manager, Alfredo, and our Expedition Team Leader, Sara, before she invites her multi-talented team to introduce themselves to us.

Then it was down to the dining room for our first taste of the excellent food on board. Our slightly delayed departure happily coincided with the end of dinner and so we are able to experience our sail away in the beautiful evening light.

Initially, Hondius is spinning on its axis to calibrate its compass (“compass swinging”) before heading north (where she will spend the next five months beyond the Arctic circle) - our adventure has now begun!

Day 2: Sailing Towards Aberdeen

Sailing Towards Aberdeen
Date: 04.06.2023
Position: 53°38.0’N / 000°48.7’E
Wind: NE 3
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +10

The day begins with a sense of anticipation as we gather to collect our boots for the voyage ahead. We took our time, trying on different sizes and searching for the perfect fit to ensure comfort during our adventure.

Afterward, Bill, our charismatic guide hailing from Scotland, entertains us with an engaging and humorous lecture, vividly describing the rich culture and history of his native land. As the day progresses, Andrew, our avian expert, enlightens us about the remarkable sea birds that populate the North Sea. We are fascinated by their unique characteristics and behaviors, gaining a deeper understanding of the region's diverse wildlife.

As evening approaches, we gather for our first daily recap. Anthonie shares intriguing information regarding the significance of Dogger Bank, an underwater plateau renowned for its geological importance and vital role in the North Sea's ecosystem. Following this, Paolo provides insights into the meticulous calibration of the ship's compass, highlighting the precision required for accurate navigation. Finally, Pelin regales us with captivating tales of superstitions at sea, immersing us in the age-old lore and beliefs passed down through generations of seafarers.

As night falls, we retire to our cabins, eagerly anticipating our arrival in Scotland. The calm sea gently carries us towards our destination.

Day 3: Aberdeen

Date: 05.06.2023
Position: 57 09 5 N 001 59 8 W
Wind: NNE 2
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +10

Monday 5th June found us off Aberdeen where we are waiting for the pilot to guide Hondius into Aberdeen harbour. Slowly, but steadily we are guided into the harbour where Hondius docked. Buses are already waiting, but British immigration had to process us into the UK first. Once that had been completed we board the buses and at ten o’clock set off to Newburgh-on-Ythan, to the North of Aberdeen.

Approaching Newburgh we enter the Forvie National Nature Reserve on the river Ythan estuary, with its omnipresent gorse, the prickly yellow plants. Walking into the dunes, with gorse plants everywhere, the botanists had a “go” at naming the many species of plants lining our path while the bird and animal lovers walk up the dunes to look for seals and birds.

Both to the North and South of Aberdeen there are bird reserves. One of these is Bullers of Buchan, just North of Cruden Bay, with its famous bird cliffs where we arrive at 12.30 hrs. We set out into different directions, most having the puffins on their minds as their favourites. Staying strictly to the paths across the steep cliffs, dozens of Puffins are seen, admired and photographed. The rocks are home to dozens of Puffins, hundreds of Kittiwakes and Northern Fulmars.

The third and final part of this busy day is the former fishing village of Footdee (affectionally called “Fittee”), now fully incorporated into the town of Aberdeen. Situated on the seaside the houses facing the coast have especially strengthened walls as rough seas would often splash against and over the houses. Today it is a vibrant little area with an eccentric mix of orderly cottages and quirky ramshackle outbuildings with little evidence of its previous life as a poor “Fish Town”.

By the time we arrive back at Hondius, 40 new passengers had come onboard who received the welcome speech by Sara, the introduction to the expedition staff and safety drill. Recap, dinner and the wildlife recap concluded a fantastic day!

Day 4: Fair Isle

Fair Isle
Date: 06.06.2023
Position: 59 30 4 N 003 38 3 W
Wind: W 3
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +15

First light saw us approaching the world-famous Fair Isle from the south; although it is cloudy, the sea is incredibly flat and the light is bright – this in itself is a real rarity in the unpredictable seas around the Shetland Islands. As we land the island’s incredible birdlife welcomes us ashore with Arctic Terns, Fulmars, Kittiwakes and Puffins.

We all begin to walk North up the road accompanied by Lapwings, Skuas and legions of Sheep with the Museum and Hall as the first destination for most of us. In the Hall we are welcomed by friendly Fair Isle folk offering complimentary tea, coffee and amazing home-bakes along with a fine selection of world-renowned Fair Isle knitting and artwork from the talented island residents.

Full of tea and cake, the vast majority of us now had one goal fresh in our minds – PUFFINS! We all carried on North up the road, past Skuas, past the Bird Observatories Heligoland traps (designed to catch migrant birds for ringing and scientific research), past the remains of the German plane the Heinkel (crash landing on the island during WW2) and past the busy construction site where the new Fair Isle Bird Observatory is rapidly being built.

After several hours ‘filling our boots’ with frame-filling photos of the wonderful Puffins, we all gradually filtered our way back south down the island with some more adventurous souls heading over to the west cliffs in search of the Gannet colonies. The day flew past, the eight hours spent on the island were gone in a flash and as we wound our weary way back to the waiting Zodiacs we were full of brilliant memories of this stunning island.

Back on the ship we tucked into a very welcome Scottish-inspired dinner and then sat down at the wildlife recap to fill in the very impressive list of birds and mammals we had seen through the day. With so many super-keen and super-knowledgeable staff and guests on board nothing was missed!

Day 5: At sea sailing towards Jan Mayen

At sea sailing towards Jan Mayen
Date: 07.06.2023
Position: 62 54 4 N 004 50 4 W
Wind: NNE 3
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +5

We wake up feeling well rested after a day’s worth of walking on Fair Isle the previous day. Sara, our Expedition Leader, calmly wakes us all up, welcoming us to our day at sea, with the hope of some good sailing conditions. One Minke Whale, Storm Petrels and Manx Shearwaters are seen early doors, setting us up for quality wildlife encounters!

Koen starts the day’s lecture program with a guide to wildlife photography. He takes us through his top ten tips on how to capture the spectacular moments we will see and have already seen on this trip. We then head over to the lecture room where Paolo follows with his fascinating tale of the Inuit who was found in Aberdeen in a kayak in 1700s. He tells us how Innuits were put in human zoo’s and how this kayaker may have been an escapee from one of these places.

The afternoon starts with Anthonie giving a reprise of his ‘Ocean Waves’ lecture. He details how the tides work across the globe creating the conditions we expect in the polar regions. We then hear ‘WHALE!’ and everyone runs out the door, a few distant blows are seen and with a photo we are able to identify them as Northern Bottlenose Whales, a deep-diving whale that is rarely seen.

Through the afternoon small groups of beautiful Long-Finned Pilot Whales are seen logging and slowly swimming at the surface. Due to the beautiful conditions, the sun hits their glossy black skin and glitters. We see some 50 animals with multiple calves in the calm seas.

After yet another superb dinner we wander out onto the decks to enjoy the superb sunlit evening. At this time of year, this far north, the sun barely dips below the horizon. This meant that, at 21:15pm, we see a Minke Whale, then a few splashes and blows are seen in the distance. This turns out to be a pod of four Orca off the starboard side and huge Fin Whales on the horizon. The blows of Fin Whales can be up to 6 m high as they are the second largest whale meaning that we could see then dead-ahead on the horizon. What a spectacular day of wildlife encounters!

Day 6: At Sea

At Sea
Date: 08.06.2023
Position: 67 52 6 N 007 57 6 W
Wind: SSW 6
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +5

It was an exciting day as our expedition cruise ventured across the polar circle, marking a significant milestone in our Arctic adventure.

The day began with a delicious breakfast, followed by an informative briefing conducted by our knowledgeable expedition leader, Sara. She enlightened us about the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) and the crucial polar bear safety regulations that ensure responsible and sustainable tourism in this pristine region. Eager to deepen our understanding of the Arctic, we then gather for a lecture delivered by Pelin, who provided us with an insightful introduction to the wonders of this unique environment.

After a satisfying lunch, the expedition team continue with an engaging lecture by Ashleigh. She delved into the realm of underwater acoustics and educated us on the captivating world of marine mammals. Learning about their communication methods, echolocation, and the importance of sound in their lives added a new dimension to our appreciation of the Arctic's diverse ecosystem.

Later in the afternoon, we were treated to a joint presentation by Meike and Aad, who focused on Jan Mayen, our destination for the following day. Jan Mayen is a remote island situated in the midst of the vast ocean, and we eagerly anticipated our upcoming visit. Meike and Aad's presentation offered a captivating glimpse into the island's history, geography, and unique flora and fauna.

To commemorate our crossing of the Arctic polar circle, the crew surprised us with a delightful happy hour. The ship's lounge buzzed with cheerful conversations as we mingled, exchanged stories, and savoured half-priced drinks.

As night fell, we gathered for the evening recap, where our expedition leaders discussed the plans for tomorrow's excursion to Jan Mayen. With a mix of excitement and curiosity, we retired to our cabins, filled with anticipation for the adventures that awaited us on this remote island in the middle of the ocean.

Day 7: Jan Mayen

Jan Mayen
Date: 09.06.2023
Position: 70 58 1 N 008 44 0 W
Wind: SSE 5
Weather: Fog/rain
Air Temperature: +3

Today, we arrive in Jan Mayen early in the morning. The weather conditions are challenging, with thick fog and strong winds. As a result, the planned disembarkation on the island is postponed. However, amidst the fog and wind, we are greeted by the sight of Northern Fulmars gracefully soaring around the boat.

After careful evaluation, a zodiac is launched into the water to gauge the conditions near the island. Our experienced expedition leader Sara gives the green light: we are clear to disembark on the remote island of Jan Mayen! Excitement fills the air as we prepare for the adventure ahead. The journey from the boat to the beach in the zodiac is bumpy and very wet, but our anticipation overshadows any discomfort. As we reach the shore, we are greeted by the rugged beauty of Jan Mayen, a place few have the opportunity to visit.

In the afternoon, we gather for a series of enlightening lectures. Adam takes the stage and captivates us with the story of Benjamin Leigh Smith, a renowned Polar Explorer. The tales of his expeditions and discoveries leave us in awe of his courage and determination. Following Adam's lecture, Chloe takes us on a fascinating journey into the curious life of plankton. Her presentation sheds light on the intricate world of these tiny organisms, revealing their importance in the marine ecosystem. Who would have thought that copepods could be so intriguing?

As the day unfolds, we are filled with gratitude for the chance to explore Jan Mayen and all of its beauty. Tomorrow, our journey continues as we set our course towards the pack ice, eagerly anticipating new discoveries.

Day 8: Arriving to the pack ice

Arriving to the pack ice
Date: 10.06.2023
Position: 75 02 5 N 006 10 8 W
Wind: S 2
Weather: Fog
Air Temperature: +3

When getting up this morning we notice that yesterday’s fog, in varying degrees of denseness, is still obscuring the horizon.

After breakfast we join a combined lecture by Marco and Chloé on sea ice dynamics. Chloé discusses the micro-biology on and under the ice, such as algae, a subject she is so passionate about. Northern Bottlenose Whales get all those gathered on the front deck on their toes. Somewhat later they get even more excited when two of those very rare Bowhead Whales briefly appear. Rumour has it that Herman has ordered them as a trailer for his lecture on Bowhead Whales in the afternoon…

In the afternoon Herman gives a lecture on the mysterious, elusive Bowhead Whale. He tells us about the state-of-the-art knowledge on it. Various groups are found in the northern waters. The Spitsbergen population totals some 325. As a species the Bowhead Whale is threatened, the more so as they reproduce very slowly. Some are reputed to have reached the age of 200 years. Fascinating footage of this mysterious whale is shown, eating with its enormous beak wide open. A video of two 100-tonne whales copulating is unique.

After Herman’s lecture we are treated to our first Polar Bear, albeit briefly: this majestic animal disappears into the fog. At 16.00 hrs. we enter what is called very open drift ice. During recap various subjects are treated such as fog, looking at art, as illustrated by the art of the sea; questions from the question box are answered. At 20.45 a second Polar Bear appears, this time closer to the ship. This King of the Arctic walks and swims away from the ship but with our binoculars we can follow the animal a long time. At the same time an Ivory Gull is observed in front of and behind the ship. A splendid day with our first Bowhead Whale and a Polar Bear ends. In the evening Hondius sets off to denser pack ice.

Day 9: Amongst the pack ice

Amongst the pack ice
Date: 11.06.2023
Position: 75 49 2 N 003 18 0 W
Wind: SE 2
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: 0

As we stir in our comfortable gently rocking bunks, bodies twitching thinking of breakfast or the toilet. The day dawns dull …the sky is overcast with clouds as we slid again into the broken edge of the pack ice. Everyone has high expectations after our dramatic encounter with the swimming bear amongst the ice floes yesterday. How could it get any better than a day landing on Jan Mayen, experiencing whales, Ivory gulls and interesting lectures.

Well, it just did, no sooner after we finish breakfast and start scanning the ice for a discordant creamy coloured lump when suddenly, an excited passenger spots a seal carcass, the bones protruding dramatically from what was left of the body. Binoculars scanned left and right then an excited cry…there!!!! We have another bear in our sights. This time a magnificent healthy specimen resting on a large floe after his feast on the adjacent recent kill only occasionally looking briefly at us, being more pre-occupied with resting, fitfully dozing, raising its head only occasionally. Everyone managed to take terrific photographs of the bear and the hundreds of birds wheeling about the vessel. What a start to another great day.

At 11am, Ralf our friendly exceedingly professional chef delivered a detailed explanation of the intricacies of the catering side of the vessel. It was apparent from the account of the ordering complexities that it was a monumental task to ensure the smooth operation of the catering side of the vessel. 8000 eggs taken on board in Holland, cheese- 150 kilos in 11 days to keep the Dutch happy. 150 kilos of rice for the crew for 11 days …the intricates of ‘fridge’ management, container delivery, fresh produce etc., all mind bogglingly complex and this is even before Ralf the chef and staff, start composing these beautiful dishes in the kitchen. The operation is awesome and the presentation and food quality simply superb. Easily one of the most interesting talks on board.

Next was our nautical expert guide Bill with a highly detailed account of Hondius, firstly giving a perspective by comparing the vessel with Plancius and Ortelius then focussing on the construction and operation. His explanations… [often humorous to sustain interest] combine serious points with fun to retain interest. In the afternoon a large audience listened to our Acoustic researcher expert Ashleigh explain the fascinating audio facts about Beluga, Humpbacks, Sperm and Blue whale sonar, and the astonishing deep diving properties of beaked whales etc.

A surprise announcement had us surging with excitement as Sara announces we are going to land on the sea ice! The team launch the zodiacs, scout a large piece of ice to ensure it is safe and slowly and diligently bring us to the ice in groups of 40. We all feel so excited to get to experience this and even the Expedition Team were smiling from ear to ear!

Another super Oceanwide expedition day ended as our super Chef Ralf organised music and a BBQ on the deck in the ice…how could this get any better we thought! Well unbelievably it did, during frantic wild joyous dancing on the aft deck an ivory gull flies casually past us on the starboard side. Creating an exit from the dance floor as everyone rushed cheering to the rail. What an amazing Oceanwide Expeditions day … excitement, education and endless FUN!

Day 10: At sea sailing to Svalbard

At sea sailing to Svalbard
Date: 12.06.2023
Position: 77 38 6 N 004 02 03 E
Wind: W 6
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +4

Our day starts most unexpectedly early when our expedition leader, Sara, wakes us up at 05:00. The staff on the bridge spot a large haul out of seals in the pack-ice and Sara decides that this wonderous sight was something we just could not miss. Bleary-eyed, we get dressed and make our way to the outer decks or the bridge to find our target. What was laid out before us is a wildlife spectacle of breath-taking magnitude –thousands of Harp Seals resting on the pack ice! The varied colouration of their bodies was easy to see and added to the visual experience because no two individuals were the same - a collage of grey, silver and black.

For some it was back to bed to catch up on sleep, but many decide to stay up supported by coffee and pastries provided by the Ferdie, the pastry chef. Claudio kicks off the morning lecture programme with a sobering talk about climate change and the problems that are coming our way. Andrew lightens the mood with his amusing “Strange World of Birders” – a comic peek behind the curtains of the lives of seriously passionate birders.

Outside the wind is getting up, producing the roughest seas of the trip. With not so many of us out on the decks, Marco continued the lecture programme by introducing us to the geology of Svalbard and Simon packed out the lecture room with his talk on the breeding birds of the archipelago. And so we moved onto the evening recap from Sara with the details of our first landings on Svalbard and (hopefully) some encounters with the mighty Walrus.

Dinner then follows but the day was about to end as it started! Just as we are tucking into our main course a number of large blows are sighted from the bridge and the call came over the PA system encouraging us to get out to see them. Those of us that were quick enough managed to see both Blue and Fin Whale together – the two largest animals that have ever lived on our planet!!

Day 11: Poolepynten and Gyertsodden

Poolepynten and Gyertsodden
Date: 13.06.2023
Position: 78 30 3 N 012 18 6 E
Wind: NW 4
Weather: Rain
Air Temperature: 0

Today we wake up to some very windy gusts of 40 knots. Sara’s soft voice comes on the PA system and informs us we have to delay operations. But with only a 30 minute delay we donned our lifejackets and are on the way to see the stinky, but very intriguing Walrus at Poolepynten! There are six seen on the land and in the water. We are guarded by the expedition staff who are keeping a watch for Polar Bears with their rifles and flare guns. It is very humorous watching the Walrus all farting and rolling around on each other! We really understand what Charlotte said in her lecture about the Walrus not needing personal space!

I am not sure how we managed to work up a hunger for lunch, but we did and it is delicious as always. In the afternoon we land at Gyertsodden to do a hike and zodiac cruise! It feels great to stretch our legs and get amongst the wildlife. We are lucky enough to see a Rock Ptarmigan, Snow Bunting, Reindeer and a Polar Fox foraging on the shore! Our guides made sure to keep us in a tightly knit group just incase a Polar Bear sprung upon us!

Unfortunately, tonight is the last night of the cruise so it is time to get dressed and enjoy a glass of prosecco with the team. Koen had been spending the last 12 days making a slideshow for us all and tonight is the night he shows it to us. It is a beautiful display of everything we have seen and experienced the 12 days, it makes us feel emotional and nostalgic, it really summed up all the magnificence of this trip, thank you Koen!

We lavished in the final four course dinner the chefs put on for us and during dessert we had the privilege of clapping all the dining staff and chefs wo had been looking after us the last 12 days.

Day 12: Disembarkation – Longyearbyen Port

Disembarkation – Longyearbyen Port
Date: 14.06.2023
Position: 78 10 126 N 014 19 286 E
Wind: SW 1
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +4

Well the final day is here. Our bags are packed and left outside our doors for the staff to collect. After breakfast at 0900 we disembark the ship and say goodbye to Sara and all of her team, what a team we can’t thank them enough for all their knowledge and guidance on this trip, we will definitely be back!


Tripcode: HDS01a23
Dates: 3 Jun - 14 Jun, 2023
Duration: 11 nights
Ship: m/v Hondius
Embark: Vlissingen
Disembark: Longyearbyen

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Aboard m/v Hondius

Hondius is the world’s first-registered Polar Class 6 vessel and was built from the ground up for expedition cruising.

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