HDS07-19, trip log, Around Spitsbergen

by Oceanwide Expeditions

Logbook

Day 1: Embarkation, Longyearbyen

Embarkation, Longyearbyen
Date: 05.07.2019
Position: 78°13’.62 N, 015°38’.50 E
Wind: SSE8
Weather: rainy
Air Temperature: +5

For many of us, the dream of reaching the high latitudes of the Arctic was finally coming true. As the different planes were arriving, it was impossible to stop looking out of the windows to the mountains, glaciers and beautiful scenery of the Svalbard archipelago.

Once in town, the excitement to finally board the new vessel, our home for the next ten days, didn’t stop us from visiting the Svalbard Museum, the local coffee shop, or just walking around the town streets with a real “expedition spirit”, as the rain and wind challenged our endurance.

Since Longyearbyen’s foundation as a coal-mining settlement in 1906 by John Munro Longyear, it has been the starting point for many historic and pioneering expeditions. The town has a permanent population of around 2,200 residents but this number increases significantly during the summer with the arrival of thousands of cruise ship tourists ready to explore the archipelago of Svalbard.

Between 16:00 and 17:00 hours, everybody arrived to the MV Hondius, where the Oceanwide crew and staff were waiting for us to start our adventure. The rain and the wind created a special atmosphere at the port, reminding us of the remote territories we were about to explore. After being led to our cabins by the Hotel crew, we gathered at the Observation Lounge to meet our Expedition Leader, Raphael, and take part on the Safety Briefings with the Chief Officer, Matei.

We were now officially ready to lift our mooring lines and sail away Northbound. The welcome dinner was the perfect opportunity for toasting to the adventure that had just started, before getting a good night of sleep to prepare for the next morning activity.

Day 2: Lilliehöökbreen and Ny Ålesund

Lilliehöökbreen and Ny Ålesund
Date: 06.07.2019
Position: 79°19’.3 N, 011°37’.9 E
Wind: NE1
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: +12

Overnight we had sailed north past Prins Karls Forland and up into Krossfjord, thankfully the waters were calm and we had a good night’s rest in preparation for our first true day of expedition.

As breakfast was being served, we cruised in to Lilliehöökfjord, the sun was shining brightly on the calm, turquoise waters as we headed towards Lilliehöökbreen, this is the largest glacier in Krossfjord with its 11km wide, semi - circular glacier front. Interestingly this is one of the fastest retreating glaciers in the archipelago, with an estimated 40% of the total ice volume of the glacier being lost within a century, with an accelerating tendency in recent years. Despite this dramatic development Lilliehöökbreen is certainly one of the scenic highlights of this area so most headed to the outside decks after breakfast to marvel at this natural wonder and enjoy the glorious weather we were being blessed with.

At 9:30am we gathered in the lounge for the three mandatory briefs which are needed before going a shore, AECO Arctic protocol, zodiac operations and polar bear safety After which we headed down to Deck 3, to collect our muck boots and life jackets in preparation for our first landing. Just as the last few guests were collecting their boots, an announcement was made to say that our first Polar Bear had been spotted for the voyage. As anticipated, this caused great excitement and everyone wrapped up warmly and hurried outside. The bear could be seen resting on a small island, close to small hut. We approached a little closer but were then informed by the expedition staff that we would have to hold our position because the island was in fact a protected bird sanctuary and that to stay within the strict regulations, we would need to maintain a minimum distance of 300m. Despite only being a few pixels in our cameras, it was very humbling to see this beautiful creature relaxing in the sunshine and looking completely at ease on this little island, indeed a very promising start to the voyage.

Over lunch we sailed into Kongsfjorden so as to be in position for our afternoon landing at Ny Ålesund. This former coal mining village is now a scientific community operating under the Norwegian Polar Institute research governance and is considered to be the most northern settlement in the world.
We were shuttled ashore by zodiac and given time to wander around the museum, visit the small souvenir shop and send post cards home to loved ones before having the option to join one of the three designated walks.

For those wanting a proper leg stretch they headed off with Ombline and some of the other expedition staff to a distant ridge behind the town which gave magnificent views back down across Kongsfjorden and the opportunity to see one of the many hanging glaciers of Svalbard.

There were also two shorter walks which stayed on lower terrain that focused more on the abundance of flowers and birdlife that could be spotted, Arctic Terns, Barnacle Geese, Eider Ducks, Long Tailed Skua and Atlantic Puffins were amongst the species to be spotted. For those more attracted by the larger creatures they were able to tick of their first Svalbard Reindeer and Harbour Seals of the voyage. All three groups went via the mast that was used to anchor a Zeppelin airship in 1926 which is found on the edge of the town. This provided the perfect place for the historians within the expedition team to talk a little bit about the history of Arctic exploration and the attempts to reach the North Pole from Spitsbergen.

Back on board, Raphael led a short recap where he explained the plans for tomorrow. After which it was time to meet our captain, Alexey Nazarov, 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.

After another delicious dinner most people head up to the bar to reflect on the day’s events and to enjoy a nightcap to celebrate the first successful expedition day. Just as we were thinking about calling it a day and retiring to bed there was an announcement to say that some whales had been spotted in the distance. As we made our way onto the outside decks, we could see the sea was broken by the huge back of a blue whale, the largest animal on the planet. We spent almost an hour in the company of two of these gentle giants, watching them feast on a bountiful Arctic buffet beneath the waves. Just as we were about to leave them two Fin Whales came into sight, the second largest baleen whale. As they fed around the bow of the ship, we could appreciate their sheer size and asymmetrical white colouration as they turned on their side to lunge feed. Finally, it was time to bid them farewell and get some sleep ourselves in preparation for another action-packed expedition day.

Day 3: Bjørnfjorden in front of Smeerenburgbreen glacier and Ytre Norskøya

Bjørnfjorden in front of Smeerenburgbreen glacier and Ytre Norskøya
Date: 07.07.2019
Position: 79°39’.3 N, 011°06’.5 E
Wind: SSE1
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: +10

When sailing into the Sorgattet sound on our way to Smeerenburgbreen (Smeerenburg glacier), we could not have wished for more agreeable weather: approximately +10°C, bright sunshine, and very little wind. This wonderful weather left us no reasons to stay aboard the ship and after yet another fine breakfast, we went on a zodiac safari exploring Bjørnfjorden, along the Smeerenburgbreen front; with a length of 8-10 km and a width of 3 km, one of the larger glaciers in the area.
The zodiac cruise did not disappoint us! Already after a few tens of minutes, we could marvel at the beauty of the white Beluga (Delphinapterus leucas) with the equally white glacier as the perfect backdrop. Things got even better after seeing the gray back of a smaller whale: a baby Beluga! Could we wish for anything better? Probably not! These belugas outshone the other animals that we saw this morning: Harbor Seals (Phoca vitulina) hauled out on the rocks, and Longtail Skuas (Stercorarius parasiticus).

Nice detail, Smeerenburg was a historically important Dutch whaling station and many geographical features in the area have been named after this station. The name Smeerenburg itself is derived from the Dutch word Smeer, translating to “grease” in English, and referring to the blubber and whale oil harvested from whales.

Over lunch, clouds drifted in. Without the sun, the afternoon excursions felt a little colder. Nevertheless, everyone had a fun afternoon on or around Ytre Norskøya (Outer Norwegian Island). Ytre Norskøya is renowned for its 17th century whalers’ graveyard and it boasts a nice Puffin colony (Fratercula arctica). Many went on a long hike on the island, walked up to the highest point of the island and could enjoy viewing the bird colony on the cliff face underneath. Others went on shorter hikes or leisure walks and could not only enjoy walking on the island and having a view of the last remnants of the graveyard, but could also enjoy a zodiac cruise towards the cliff face and enjoy the Puffins from there. Highlights for one of the medium hiking groups was to see how cruel nature can be when two Skuas were tearing at an Arctic tern they just killed.

Although there is currently very little left of the (legally protected) whalers’ graveyard, scientific research of skeletons recovered from this site shed light on 17th century whalers’ clothing and fashion, as well as on how whalers died during that time. Although whaling was a very dangerous job, this scientific research pointed out that most of the whalers died of scurvy from malnutrition, rather than from accidents.

Engage your brain and imagine how unbearable this otherworldly place must have been to the men who came here, hoping to make a little more money than they could make back home.

Day 4: Hindlopen Strait, Alkefjellet and Polar bears

Hindlopen Strait, Alkefjellet and Polar bears
Date: 08.07.2019
Position: 79°39’.1 N, 019°25’.6 E
Wind: N3
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +6

We were woken by Raph at 0730 amongst the ice at the Northern end of the Hindlopen Strait, a leisurely breakfast was followed by enjoying the sights from the ships as we searched for wildlife.
Sara gave a lecture on Polar Bears and a re-cap followed where we learned about the history of Svalbard from Ombline and the i-naturalist app from Leonard.

Lunch came around quickly and we could see the impressive cliffs of Alkefjellet in the distance, the next stop on our trip.

After lunch we went on a zodiac cruise along the cliffs; these impressive stony giants which raise from the sea were formed 100-150 million years ago and are formed of limestone with dolerite intrusions and white marble giving them their impressive appearance; the structure also makes them the ideal home for an estimated 60,000 Brünnichs Guillemot.

We cruised along and we rewarded with the sight of Arctic foxes seeking food along the grassy areas of the cliff foot. As we went along, we could begin to appreciate the scale of the cliffs, and the sheer number of birds nesting left many speechless.

We returned to Hondius and began to sail away when Melissa spotted a mum and cub Polar bear on a small island. Raph, Flo and Adam with the swift assistance of the bridge and deck crews boarded a zodiac to see if an activity was possible. Key to wildlife watching is ensuring that we don’t disturb their natural behaviour, within a few minutes it was announced that we would undertake a short zodiac cruise. We were able to get closer to the bear and through binoculars could see that she was nursing her young cub who was less than one year old.

We returned, elated back to the ship where a BBQ dinner had been prepared for us. With a great day behind us we enjoyed the food, drink and lively atmosphere including music and dancing for those who were not too tired.

Day 5: Pack ice, Northernmost latitude

Pack ice, Northernmost latitude
Date: 09.07.2019
Position: 80°27’.0 N, 012°37’.4 E
Wind: SSW5
Weather: cloudy
Air Temperature: +4

Today we started the day with a ship cruise going through the sea ice looking for polar bears and seals. The sea was very calm in between the ice floes and the weather was beautiful with the sun shining brightly and almost no wind. Our bear watch was rewarded at around 9am when a mother and a yearling cub were spotted on the ice. The cub was very curious and actually made its way towards the ship for a little while before its mother got to him and brought him back to reason. He was quite a poser as he kept facing the ship and then rolled on the ice several times. Its mother then slowly started scouting the ice for seals and started walking parallel to the ship. Keeping a distance of about 50 m the cub then started to follow her and we could see them roaming across the ice floes, jumping on occasion. We had fantastic photographic opportunities with these bears on the ice and a beautiful sun. What a treat!

The cub was already out of the first danger zone which is the first year of life when still a high percentage of them are lost. But another dangerous period will come ahead, namely the time next year when he will leave his mother and will have to start hunting on its own. The success rate for young bears is even lower than for adults, so we wish him good luck as we watched them disappear in the distance.

During the morning we had a presentation by Melissa entitled “Big Ice” during which she walked us through the different types of ice we can encounter in the Arctic, the different movements of ice and the actual situation and trends of ice in the Arctic. In the afternoon we had two more presentations: one by Adam on the history of Arctic explorations, specifically the expedition carried out by Lee Smith which involved the heroic story of Bob the dog which had quite intense encounters with polar bears and acted as a safeguard against these animals, but also informed the members of the expedition about walrus presence. Later in the afternoon Leonard gave a presentation about adaptations of wildlife to life in the Arctic. And during the recaps we had short talks about the artic fox, Svalbard climate, and 3 surprising things you can find in Arctic waters.

Day 6: Snatcherpynten and Varsölbukta

Snatcherpynten and Varsölbukta
Date: 10.07.2019
Position: 77°30’.8 N, 014°36’.2 E
Wind: E1
Weather: Overcast/Fog
Air Temperature: +9

After having left the sea ice behind us the evening before, we sailed south throughout the night to awaken in beautiful Bellsund. This area of Spitsbergen island is ice-free most of the year because of the relatively warmer currents passing its shores from the south. For this reason, Bellsund has a rich human history beginning with the arrival of William Barents in 1596. Our destination this morning was Recherchefjord, a short 8 km long fjord on the south side of the sound. It was here where we believe the first Europeans over-wintered in 1630, though quite by accident it seems. These poor men were inadvertently left behind when their whaling ship sailed away without them. They survived the winter near Renardbreen however the site has since been destroyed by an advancement of the glacier.

We came ashore at Snatcherpynten on the southwest side of the fjord where there was still standing an old building. It was built in 1904 by the Norwegian consul Johannes Gjæver with ideas of bringing tourists here which never actually happened. From here, the expedition team took us off to explore in different directions and with different goals. The long hikers headed off at a quick pace in order to cover some distance and get some fantastic views from higher on the moraines near the foot of the mountains. The middle group took more time to explore along their way, not covering quite the distance and remaining lower down on the slopes in hope of encountering some wildlife. The leisurely group wandered along the shoreline learning a bit about sea grasses and algae as well as looking for shells or other evidence of sea live washed up on the beach. Later they wandered a bit further away from the shore to explore the tundra and interesting permafrost patterns found in the areas closer to the sea. Some of the birds observed were arctic skua, great skua, purple sandpiper, and snow bunting while a few reindeer were close by as well.

At the end of our time here, we had fun with our polar plunge. For those very adventuresome souls, this was their chance to take a dip in the frigid waters of the arctic and for others, the chance to cheer them on and document the event with cameras. It was great to see how many of the passengers chose to plunge – now officially indoctrinated as true arctic explorers. Afterward, it was back on board for a wonderful lunch and a hot shower.

In the afternoon, we arrived to the northern shores of the sound in Vårsolbukta and landed at Camp Millar. Here the NEC built 2 huts in hopes of finding gold in the boundary zone between metamorphic basement and sedimentary rocks above – to no avail. The huts today are used by a variety of visitors from researchers to filmmakers to tourists.

We again divided into 3 groups by interest and activity level and off we went to explore. The tundra here is quite rich and we found many reindeer comfortably grazing or resting nearby so were able to have a very nice visit with this endemic subspecies – Rangifer tarandus platyrhynchus. A little further along, we even had the opportunity to see a few new calves of the year and witnessed some nursing behavior – so lovely to watch. The highlight for many, however, were the playful arctic fox pups we encountered below the Little Auk colonies in the rocks above our track. What a treasure to see these beautiful arctic denizens as they frolicked about chewing on old bird wings or bones from long-dead reindeer. They were a bit curious and came closer than their parents may be comfortable with so we were able to capture some wonderful images that will add much to our memories of this beautiful place. As they were still very grey and white, we learned that they must be less than 8 weeks old. This is about when they start to molt their fur and begin to take on the appearance of a mature fox. This coming winter will be a challenge for these new additions to the population but if they can persist through their first winter, life (though never easy) is more assured.

Day 7: Ice navigation through Storfjord and Kapp Lee

Ice navigation through Storfjord and Kapp Lee
Date: 11.07.2019
Position: 77°38’.4 N, 019°48’.0 E
Wind: SW3
Weather: Overcast / fog
Air Temperature: +1

At 7:45 we heard the wakeup call with following information about weather and our location. When we moved outside from our cabins, we found ourselves in very open sea ice. At the beginning, visibility was good at the morning but with time and a cold front coming, weather changed and around 10 o’clock our possibilities to see for long distance disappeared to only couple of dozen meters. After a tasty breakfast prepared by the galley team, we could participate in a wonderful lecture presented by Florence about an amazing story of Willem Barents and the discovery of Spitsbergen. Later on, our expedition team prepared for us a series of short lectures: first started Leonard with a talk about seals, then Ombline about Salomon Andreé and the early exploration of Spitsbergen, and at the end Meike, talking about Northern Fulmars, true sea birds.

At 12:30, Michael together with chef Ralf, invited us for lunch: a fine selection of salads and meat finished with superb dessert – coconut mousse. After a short break with full stomachs, we participated in a landing at Dolerittneset, enjoying amazing scenery and breathtaking history of 18th Pomors hunting station and Scandinavian trapper settlement with Walrus graveyard at the background. During the short walk we were able to see whale bones which tell stories about whalers in the 17th century. However, not far away from the landing site, we could admire the biggest seal above the arctic circle: the Walrus, around 25 bewhiskered beasts were laying on the beach making funny noises and rolling from one side to another. After a successful landing, we went back to Hondius and Raphael, our expedition leader, gave us information about tomorrow activities and just after 7 pm, we sat comfortably in the dining room and again admiring food prepared by our chef Ralf.

During the evening, we sailed through Freemansundet channel between the pack-ice. With no wind and a mild fog, the scenery looked mystical. A perfect way to end this lovely day and to take a good rest before tomorrow’s adventures await.

Day 8: Diskobukta, Dunerbukta and Negribreen

Diskobukta, Dunerbukta and Negribreen
Date: 12.07.2019
Position: 77°56’.0 N, 020°28’.1 E
Wind: SW4
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: 0

Today was going to start with an early activity, a landing at Diskobukta with hikes between high cliffs home to a huge Kittiwake colony.

Weather conditions were great, no swell, no wind, blue sky but as Captain Aleksey and his team came closer, they had to cancel the operations due to huge amounts of ice blocking the landing site. Instead of getting ready after breakfast, we all were invited to the lounge for a unique lecture on Plankton by Chloe, Pierre and Szymon. With samples taken from the ocean just the day before with a plankton net, Chloe put them under the microscope attached to the projection screen so everybody could see it. We were amazed by the findings. Little crabs, copepods, jellyfish, worms and more! Pierre informed us with the importance and the secret amazing life of krill. Leaving us in awe about what we just had learned about the importance of plankton, Raph announced the presence of 2 Polar bears on the beach.

We all made our way outside, with some of us not even wearing a coat due to the warm temperatures. There they were, a mother and a 2-year-old cub walking on the beach along the shoreline at Dunerbukta. A beautiful and joyful sighting. Eventually, the bears moved up the mountain, walking out of sight for most of us.

Meanwhile, the staff lowered 13 zodiacs to take everybody who was interested on a special zodiac ice cruise. Within a very short time, all the guests got ready to embark and take off in superb conditions with their guides. Blue sky, no wind, amazing scenery with ice bergs looking like unique sculptures drifting around us. As we cruised in between the ice, the fulmars and kittiwakes joined us over our heads. A strong current made some pieces of ice move fast and gave us a different scene wherever we drove. The fog moved in at a few places, and looking over our shoulders, the Hondius looked like a pirate ship dooming out of the clouds. Endless amount of ice pictures were taken and with these weather conditions nobody wanted to go back, but of course Michael and his team prepared a lovely lunch so we made it back in time. A great lunch as usual and how appropriate, ice cream for dessert.

No time for an after-lunch dip, as the 2nd officer Diederik made an announcement from the bridge that we had a pod of beluga’s in front of the ship. Again, an amazing encounter of more than 20 individuals with younger calves who have a grey coloration, unlike the white adults.

Still looking at the beluga’s, suddenly a male polar bear appeared on portside of the ship. The guest at the bow could not believe their eyes. The polar bear changed his direction and so did the captain, making way for the master of the arctic. Looking at a polar bear swimming was amazing and it got even more exciting when this majestic male decided to climb on a piece of ice. After climbing on the ice flow, he gave his fur a good shake and dipped back in, continuing his voyage, and so did we, heading for the end of the Negribeenfjord.

Such a greet afternoon needs to be celebrated, so Michael and his hotel staff invited everybody on the front deck for hot chocolate, whipped cream and an optional shot of kalua. Closing it off with a cheery group picture. The only reason to go inside on this lovely day was that we left the beautiful bay and Melissa gave a lecture on Polar bears and their reproduction, something nobody wanted to miss out on.

On this expedition we were treated with many amazing sightings of polar bears and their behavior so a “I saw a Polar Bear Happy Hour” was organized by the hotel staff, much appreciated by lots of guest.

With the sun still high in the cloudless sky, we made our way to the dining room, to have a delicious plated 3 course meal. Meanwhile, looking out into the ocean flat as a mirror, this day was one of many to embrace.

Day 9: Sailing towards Isfjord and Gjertsenodden at St. Jonsfjorden

Sailing towards Isfjord and Gjertsenodden at St. Jonsfjorden
Date: 13.07.2019
Position: 77°08’.0 N, 014°01’.3 E
Wind: NNW4
Weather: rainy
Air Temperature: +4

In order to get back on time to Longyearbyen, we spend the morning navigating along the eastern coast of Spitzbergen.

Ombline gave us a very instructive lecture about the Arctic geopolitics and its complexity.

Later on, we could follow a series of lectures prepared by the knowledgeable expedition team. Szymon started with a talk about the glaciers in Spitsbergen and explain us how global warming is going to impact them. Then, Sara tough us how to identify whale according to their blow, their size and the shape of their dorsal fins. After what, Mellissa came up on stage with a very long rope as a visual aid to realize how big (or how small) some of the whales were! To finish, Leonard gave us some numbers about the boat: We had 144 passengers, 44 crew members, 13 officers and 13 expeditions staff. We also ate 450 eggs as well as 40 kg of veggies… a day!

In the afternoon it was time to get out of the boat and get some fresh arctic air into our lungs. The boat stopped in St. Jonsfjord, a relatively small fjord with several glacier and mountains. We made our last landing in a place call Gjertsenodden. The horizon was foggy, the sea was calm and couple of eider ducks were swimming near the shore.

The long hikers went for a 3h walk together lead by Raphael. They enjoyed exploring the tundra and looking at flowers.

The short walkers came ashore next to a hut. The hut was built in the 1960´s by Per Johnson, one of the Svalbard´s last polar bear hunters. It was named Perhytta after its builder. It was not an historical hut and it was never used for overwintering. It was very nice to have a look at the inside, there was a stove, a bed and some books on the shelf. It was also funny to have a look at the toilet next to the hut; without a door it had the view on the fjord! It must be the toilet with the best view in the world!

A bit further forms the hut, in the middle of the mud, we had the chance to spotted…. polar bears track! It was very impressive to see the size of the foot prints!

It was then time to carefully clean our boots before getting back on board.

At the end of the day Sara shared an emotional slide show where we could all remember the great moment onboard the Hondius. What a nice trip we had. Then, it was finally time for the Captain’s cocktail.

Day 10: Longyearbyen

Longyearbyen
Date: 14.07.2019
Position: 78°14’.61 N, 015°32’.60 E
Wind: S2
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +3

As Hondius approached Longyearbyen last night, we knew our last hours onboard were approaching. It was time to reflect on the amazing voyage we just had, the abundant wildlife sightings, the history of the area we visited and the friendships we made on our home for the past ten days.

As the first Zodiacs left the ship at 5:45 am, the first wave of guests prepared to disembark and go straight to the airport to catch the early flight. An early bird was served in the main lounge, while full breakfast was ready at 7 am for the rest of us so we could leave Hondius, homeward bound, at 8:15 am.

This was the end of our Arctic adventure with the Oceanwide Staff and Crew, on board the unforgettable brand new MV Hondius.

Thank you all for such a wonderful voyage, for your company, good humour and enthusiasm. We hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be!

Total distance sailed on our voyage: 1296 nautical miles

Furthest North: 80°27’.87 N, 012°37’.45 E

On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Alexey Nazarov, Expedition Leader Raphaël Sané, Hotel Manager Michael Frauendorfer and all the crew and staff, it has been a pleasure travelling with you.

Details

Tripcode: HDS07-19
Dates: 5 Jul – 14 Jul, 2019
Duration: 9 nights
Ship: m/v Hondius
Embark: Longyearbyen
Disembark: Longyearbyen

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