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HDS04-22, trip log, North Spitsbergen, In search of Polar Bear & Pack Ice Summer Solstice, Arc of Meridian

by Oceanwide Expeditions

Logbook

Day 1: Embarkation, Longyearbyen

Embarkation, Longyearbyen
Date: 16.06.2022
Position: 78°13.7’ N, 015°56.2’ E
Wind: NW 2
Weather: Overcast/rain
Air Temperature: +9

With Hondius anchored in the fjord off the port in Longyearbyen, we began our adventure in fine expedition style with an exciting zodiac shuttle for guests and their luggage. Many guests explained they had been due to make this trip a couple of years ago, but unfortunately due to the covid pandemic it had to be rescheduled. So, you can imagine the excitement everyone was feeling to be finally starting this expedition after a long wait! Most of the luggage was already aboard when everyone donned a lifejacket and stepped carefully into the zodiac to be smoothly driven across the water and enter Hondius through the shell doors for the first time (but by no means the last!). After registering at reception we made our way to our cabins to settle in. Happily aboard and reunited with our luggage, Expedition Leader (EL) Florence and Chief Officer Matei commenced the mandatory ship safety briefing at 17:30pm, during which guests were shown how to put on life jackets and floatation suits, stored in cabins in the event of an emergency situation. As part of the briefing an abandon ship alarm was sounded - 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 warm welcome and orientation briefing from our Hotel Manager William and EL Florence – an overview of life on board and how to access important information concerning our daily schedules. After a wonderful buffet dinner prepared by the galley staff 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 about correct behaviour towards the environment, people and wildlife of the Arctic. Finally, after a long 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 Ny-London

Lilliehöökbreen and Ny-London
Date: 17.06.2022
Position: 79° 06.6’ N, 011°29.5’ E
Wind: S4
Weather: Overcast/rain
Air Temperature: +5

And so began our first full day aboard the ship! We awoke to a slight drizzle to have a lovely breakfast, which did not however in any way diminish the beauty of the Lillehöökbreen Glacier, where we leisurely cruised throughout the morning. Despite the over 40% loss it has experienced over the last two decades, it remains a sight to behold. Over 8 km wide and much higher than our vessel, we stood outside and took in the sheer enormity and beautiful light blue coloration of this massive pack of ice, sculpted by time. Pieces of this glacier could be seen around our ship in various sizes drifting off towards the open ocean, destined to disappear over time. In terms of wildlife, we were able to witness Brünnich’s Guillemots and Northern Fulmars flying around the ship, as well as groups of Common Eider ducks on shore, flocks of Little Auks and our first pair of Puffins! After muck boots were distributed to all passengers, we suddenly made a small detour due to a Polar Bear sighting! Seen by AEL George and a few other people it unfortunately disappeared over a ridge. We stopped and scanned but to no avail, so we moved on to our next destination. During the transfer, the rest of the mandatory briefings were held so everyone was equally well informed on arctic behaviour and safety. During lunch Hondius relocated to the Kongsfjord to undertake the first landing of the cruise at Ny London, a reminder of a failed marble enterprise undertaken by the British shoemaker Ernest Mansfield. As our scouting zodiacs approached the shore, Andrew, on the bridge, briefly spotted a Polar Bear right next to the planned landing site; from his zodiac George was then able to confirm the sighting. Flexibility being a part of the adventure, the planned landing was immediately cancelled and a Plan B to launch all zodiacs was started to observe the bear from the water. The zodiacs were able to follow the bear as it walked above the shoreline before settling down for a nap, although not before startling a few Reindeer. We drove back to the bay of Ny London to look at the remains of the marble mine from the safety of the zodiac. Two beautiful Long-tailed Duck males were vying for the attentions of a female and a Long-tailed Skua could be closely approached, scenically posed looking into the distance whilst perched atop piece of ice. This species has only been observed nesting in this area, the only place in Spitsbergen! With calm winds, beautiful cloud formations and even the occasional patch of blue sky, we contentedly returned to the ship to enjoy the rest of the day in warmth and comfort. Not bad for our first full day in the arctic!

Day 3: Indre Norskoya, Smeerenburg and Virgohamna

Indre Norskoya, Smeerenburg and Virgohamna
Date: 18.06.2022
Position: 79°52.8’ N, 11°11.4’ E
Wind: Variable 1
Weather: P.cloudy/sun
Air Temperature: +8

We woke up under a bright sunshine, blue sky and to Flo’s voice wishing us a good morning and telling us that we should get up as soon as possible because there was a female Polar Bear feeding on the nearby shoreline of Indre Norskoya, along with her two cubs. They were eating blubber, probably from a dead whale – it made for a delicious meal for this bear family, even if it looks like it has been there for more than a year! So right after breakfast we were called to Deck 3 to jump into the zodiacs for a cruise. We went straight to those charismatic creatures who had finished eating and were slowly making their way away from the water but stayed close enough for us to have a good view. As they disappeared behind a ridge for a snooze we started a cruise around the island. Little Auks were seen flying to their nests with predatory Glaucous Gulls lurking around. A Walrus was swimming around and Common Eider were hanging out on the shallow rocks. The sun was shining, the light was beautiful and the sharp black peaks of the mountains gave us the chance to create artistic shots. Heading back to the ship we stopped to admire a growler (a small iceberg) showing its varied blue tints. Over lunch we arrived to Smeerenburg, a Dutch name which means ‘blubber town’- an area full of history. Around the 1630’s, some 200 persons lived on this little piece of land to work for the lucrative (but oh, so dangerous!) whaling. Seven Dutch companies were based there and we could still see the remains of the blubber ovens and whale bones on the beach. On the other side of the landing site, we spent a nice time admiring the Walrus haul out. These giant beasts were playing in the water and were surprisingly active for such big animals that usually prefer to just sleep on the beach. For the zodiac cruising we went to see some Harbour Seals, that were adopting their classic ‘banana’ shape sitting out on the rocks. We then cruised by the site of the hot air balloon expedition of Saloman Andrée which started in Virgohamna in 1897. He had this magical dream to reach the North Pole by flying but the adventure went horribly wrong from the beginning and later, during recap, George’s explained they were often high on morphine. Sadly, they failed and died on the way but it showed their drive to realise the dream of being the first people to reach the North Pole was stronger than anything else.

Day 4: Grahuken and Monacobreen

Grahuken and Monacobreen
Date: 19.06.2022
Position: 79° 47.3’ N, 014° 23.5’ E
Wind: ENE 4
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +5

This morning’s activities began with Guide Georgina giving a lecture about photography shortly after breakfast. Having arrived at our morning destination of Grahuken, it was then time to go ashore. After scouting from land, sea and the bridge of Hondius to make sure there were no polar bears in the vicinity of our landing site, the Expedition Team assembled and began shuttling guests ashore via the zodiacs. The first guests on shore were the ‘fast, fit and furious’ hikers who set off at pace and enjoyed a three-hour ramble into the wilderness of the Arctic tundra. The rest of the guests then came ashore and ventured between Expedition Team staff positioned around the shore area. There was plenty to explore, from the trapper’s hut (made famous by Christine Ritter from her memoir ‘A Woman in the Polar Night’) to Eduardo’s sextant activity to Andrew’s birdwatching. Plants were still awakening from winter’s grasp on the areas free from snow and ice with the first few tiny buds of spring flowers visible. Mosses and lichens, of a wide variety of colours, dominated the rocky ground. The hikers returned to the landing site (leaving us in awe by showing photos of a narwhal skull they had spotted) just before 12 noon, at which time some brave guests took the opportunity to take a swim in the Arctic Ocean by doing the Polar Plunge! After lunch Mikhail gave a lecture called ‘Arctic Awhaleability’ discussing the past, present and future of cetaceans (whales and dolphins) in the Arctic. We were then in the vicinity of the beautiful glacier of Monacobreen and it was time to go zodiac cruising! Named after Prince Albert I of Monaco (in honour of expeditions he organised to explore and map the area in the early 1900’s), Monacobreen is one of the most photogenic parts of the Svalbard archipelago. Initially our view was obstructed by thick fog but, thankfully, just after we started cruising it began to clear. In addition to travelling the length of this stunning wall of ice we enjoyed icebergs which had calved from it; we were in awe of the colours and shapes, incredible ice sculptures carved by nature’s forces. In the evening’s recap Guide Laura described surging glaciers (Monacobreen is this type of glacier) followed by Guide Cas who helped us to identify some of the bird species we had seen today. These included Snow Bunting, Black Guillemot and Brünnich’s Guillemot, Arctic Skua and Black-legged Kittiwake. Expedition Leader Flo rounded things off by giving us the plan for tomorrow: a day in the sea ice! This was a long-awaited day for many guests and there was much excitement in the Observation Lounge after this plan had been revealed. After recap yet more cause for joy followed; tonight’s dinner would be a BBQ! We all made our way outside onto deck 5 aft to enjoy a delicious variety of food surrounded by the incredible scenery of Svalbard’s snowy mountains. After eating the tables were cleared and it was time to dance and sing the night away. To top off the evening three separate Minke Whales were seen! These 10m long whales were evidently feeding as they repeatedly surfaced a few times, breaking the mirror calm waters, before disappearing back into the depths. What a great end to the day!

Day 5: Sea Ice

Sea Ice
Date: 20.06.2022
Position: 80˚35.29N, 11˚23.41E
Wind: E5
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +3

Today we aim for our farthest northern destination - the pack ice! The edge of the ice lies at 80˚35.29N, 11˚23.41E, which we reach at 7:30AM. Time for the wake-up call, although quite a few of the guests are already on deck or in the lounge to get their first sight of the vast expanse of ice spreading out in front of the Hondius, all the way to the North Pole. While we are enjoying breakfast the ship slowly moves forward into the pack ice, gently pushing aside large sheets of up to 1-meter-thick ice. When nudging particularly large sheets vibrations run through the Hondius combined with the sound of thunder, revealing the impact of the ice on the hull. Around 9:30AM the ice is so dense that the captain has to reduce speed to 1 knot. Even though we are in what looks like a white desert there are still birds to be seen. Kittiwakes and Northern Fulmars accompany the ship. Interestingly, a few of the fulmars are of the ‘light’ morph (grey wings, all white below – similar to the colouration of gulls). This colour morph is not common this far north, where the ‘dark’ or ‘blue’ phase usually predominate. Both Brünnich’s and Black Guillemots also fly past every now and again. While all guides and some guests search for the prize of the da, - the polar bear - others enjoy one of the many lectures on the programme today. Sara started off with her brilliant presentation on Polar Bears and Eduardo bent our minds (as well as space and time!!) with his talk on Einstein, Navigation & GPS. Later in the morning the wind picked up, bringing a real Arctic chill to the outside decks. Time for lunch! During the whole day the guide team kept a watch on the bridge but, despite all the hours of effort, no polar bears were sighted. We begin to realise how lucky we were with the encounters earlier in the cruise. Later, Laura gave a suitably relevant talk on Sea Ice, whilst outside the increasing wind caused the ice floes to close. Captain Artur, an experienced ice navigator, decided that the risk of becoming stuck was increasing and ordered a retreat to open water. Inside Hazel gave a great lecture on Pinnipeds (Seals, Sea Lions & Walrus) and left us with the haunting sound of the Bearded Seal. The ship started heading south and, after recap, we started heading for dinner.

Day 6: Signehamna and Ny Alesund

Signehamna and Ny Alesund
Date: 21.06.2022
Position: 79°16.3’ N, 011°34.5’ E
Wind: ESE5
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +10

We woke up under greyish skies but to a warmer temperature and yet another beautiful landscape. With this atmospheric weather and the high peaks covered with colourful mosses, we got excited about the morning. This was a split landing starting with a lecture on board given by Claudio who talked about climate change and where the world is going. For the other half of the group, we started with a landing in a beautiful little inlet of Signehamna. Green patches of moss, orange lichen and tiny Purple Saxifroga covered the landing site. The Snow Buntings were showing off all around and Purple Sandpiper were almost at our feet, totally absorbed in feeding themselves up for the breeding season. First stop on our hike was magnificent viewpoint where we could see the Lilliehookbreen glacier (our first stop on Day 2) and look down on Hondius, anchored in the fjord, with the craggy mountains behind. That was followed by a visit to the old German weather station and some historical remains of that era. Eduardo explained the history illustrating it by pointing our remains on the ground, including jerrycans, barrels, glass, crockery, etc and other remains we could see on ground. Onto the next viewpoint with the wonderful vista of the freshwater lake and the nesting area of Red-throated Diver, before turning back to the landing site and a return to Hondius. As we were having lunch, we could see the sea building up and the wind was gusting at up to 40 knots. That was not a good sign… and as we reassessed the situation closer to Ny Alesund it became clear that the wind would remain above safe operational limits. We kept going deeper in the fjord hoping to find more shelter to make a landing but the wind was too strong and Flo decided to cancel, for safety reasons. As an alternative we got an amazing lecture by Cas about the migration of birds and how they manage to make these incredible journeys to get to their summer breeding grounds from their wintering areas and back again. This was followed by a ship’s cruise and William announcing a happy hour - Whouhou!!! - always a good way to lighten the mood. We also had an extended recap with tomorrow’s plan, Szymon’s talk on the origin of Hondius’ name, Eduardo’s about the summer solstice and Hazel on narwal. The recap ended with the opportunity to ask any questions of the whole staff. Again, a delicious dinner was served by our lovely hotel team and we finished the day watching the dramatic spray coming over the bow from the safety of the lounge - maybe with a glass of our favorite drink.

Day 7: Skansbukta and Ymerbukta

Skansbukta and Ymerbukta
Date: 22.06.2022
Position: 78°25.8’ N, 015°45.6’ E
Wind: SE 2
Weather: Part Cloudy
Air Temperature: +8

Today the location of our morning activities was Skansbukta, named after the nearby mountain Skansen (a Norwegian word for ‘sloping’ which refers to the shape of the wide plateau that tops the mountain). This fantastic location is full of interest and despite it being quite windy the sun was shining which was very welcome! The first group of passengers went ashore to enjoy the variety of features to be explored. This was a particularly lovely site for plants and guests with a botanical interest were thrilled to see a wide variety; Mountain Avens, Arctic Bell Heather, Tufted Saxifrage, Drooping Saxifrage, Snow Saxifrage, Ellesmerel, Woolly Lousewort, Hairy Lousewort, Pale Whitlow-grass, Sulphur Buttercup, Hawkweed-leaved Saxifrage, Northern Golden Saxifrage, Mountain Sorrel were all observed. Two very obliging Svalbard Reindeer, complete with velvet covered antlers, were lying down resting giving great photo opportunities. A twisted, rusting railway remains of mining operations for gypsum which ran from 1918 – 1930’s by the Dalen Portland Cement Works, and a small, wrecked ship were items of historical significance. Additionally, there was a trapper’s hut, built in the early 1900’s but well maintained and still in use by locals today. The towering mountains surrounding the landing area were host to large numbers of nesting seabirds, mostly Northern Fulmars. Zodiac cruisers enjoyed travelling along the cliffs with these birds flying overhead and were delighted by numerous Atlantic Puffins which were on the water. Guests on the second zodiac cruise had spectacular views of two Arctic Foxes! These nimble little mammals were running across the mountainside, hunting for food and stopping to chase and play with each other. After our last delicious lunch of the expedition it was time for our afternoon excursions, a split landing/zodiac cruise, this time at Ymerbukta. With the towering cliffs of Alkehornet looming in the distance Hondius halted, zodiacs were launched and operations began. Ashore, guests were able to have the unforgettable experience of touching the Esmarkbreen glacier at its terminal moraine. Having seen so many stunning glaciers from the water, both from Hondius and from zodiacs, it was truly awe-inspiring to have this up-close encounter with this gigantic frozen river of ice. During the zodiac cruises everyone took a moment to sit in silence and absorb the sounds of the Arctic one last time, from the scratchy calls of Arctic terns to the creaking of the glacier and rushing meltwater. Alongside the sounds of the Arctic, we were treated to a fantastic view of a Bearded Seal hauled out resting on the ice! There were many ‘awws’ at this beautiful animal as guests viewed it snoozing peacefully. Also, King Eider duck were seen to the delight of the birders. What a terrific end to our last full day of the trip! Back on board we were treated to the fabulous end of trip photo slideshow created by Photography Guide Georgina whilst sipping prosecco and hearing a final farewell from our Captain, Artur Iakovlev and thanked the Expedition Team. At our last evening meal we gave thanks to all of the staff, from bar to galley and housekeeping to hotel, acknowledging all of the people who had worked to deliver our incredible expedition cruise experience. Sad to be leaving but happy to have had this once in a lifetime trip, we headed to our cabins to pack our bags.

Day 8: Longyearbyen - Disembarkation

Longyearbyen - Disembarkation
Date: 23.06.2022
Position: 78°14.0’ N, 015°37.4’ E
Wind: E5
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +5

And so, the curtain comes down on our amazing arctic expedition. After our final wake-up call by Expedition Leader Flo it was time for our last breakfast on board M/V Hondius. Guests were transported ashore in Longyearbyen by zodiacs (one last little cruise!). The friendly Expedition Team said farewell and off everyone went with big smiles and memories to treasure forever! 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: 837.8 nautical miles Furthest North: 80°39.228’ N, 11°30.478’ E On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Artur Iakovlev, Expedition Leader Florence Kuyper, Hotel Manager William Barnes and all the crew and staff of M/V Hondius, it has been a pleasure travelling with you.

Details

Tripcode: HDS04-22
Dates: 16 Jun - 23 Jun, 2022
Duration: 7 nights
Ship: m/v Hondius
Embark: Longyearbyen
Disembark: Longyearbyen

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Hondius is the first-registered Polar Class 6 vessel in the world, optimized for the most innovative exploratory voyages throughout the Arctic and Antarctica.

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