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HDS07-22, trip log, Around Spitsbergen, In the realm of Polar Bear & Ice

by Oceanwide Expeditions

Logbook

Day 1: Longyearbyen

Longyearbyen
Date: 07.07.2022
Position: 78°14.0’ N, 015°37.4’ E
Wind: SE 4/6
Weather: Clear Sky
Air Temperature: +4

Our Arctic adventure was due to begin, under a bright blue sky, warm weather for a city so far north, and slight wind. Our first introduction to expedition was at the pier where the expedition team picked us and our luggage up by zodiac. We had to enjoy a short drive before boarding MV Hondius, our house for the next week, anchored in the harbor of Longyearbyen. As we got onboard, we were welcomed by the hotel department and Albert, the receptionist, who handed us the keys of our room. As we were discovering the vessel, we naturally made our way to the observation lounge were some coffee and tea were waiting for us, but also where we will have the best view of the surrounding landscape. We knew we will spend as much time as we can in this space looking out the window, making sure we will not miss any sightings of wildlife. Happily, aboard and reunited with our luggage, Expedition Leader (EL) Eduardo and Chief Officer Matei commenced the mandatory ship safety briefing at 17:15pm, 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, the responsible for each muster station gave us the instruction in case of a real, but very unlikely, emergency. Afterwards, at 18:15pm, guests received a warm welcome and orientation briefing from our Hotel Manager William and EL Eduardo – an overview of life on board and how to access important information concerning our daily schedules. This was followed by our first delicious dinner in the restaurant prepared by the Ralf, our onboard chef, and its galley team. Finally, one last mandatory briefing was announced about the rules to follow when you get onshore. The expedition team introduced themselves and we were happy to hear all their background in various area of expertise like biology, geology, history and even geopolitics. It was followed by a little video produced by AECO, the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators, which explained how to preserve this pristine environment. As the day ended, many of us headed to bed to be well rested for our first full day of expedition tomorrow.

Day 2: Lilliehookbreen and Fjortende Julibukta

Lilliehookbreen and Fjortende Julibukta
Date: 08.07.2022
Position: 79°12.0’ N, 011°44.3’ E
Wind: SW 3
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: +7

Our wake-up call from Expedition Leader Eduardo came at 7:30am and, shortly afterwards, we headed to breakfast. During our first meal of the day, the bridge team positioned Hondius in front of the beautiful Lillehöökbreen glacier so that we could enjoy spectacular views of this area throughout the rest of the morning. Muck boots were also distributed with the Expedition Team helping us to find the perfect fit of this waterproof footwear as we would be wearing these for every landing ashore. Shortly afterwards everyone attended the last of our mandatory briefings; this one was regarding zodiac operations, which would come in useful for our afternoon activities of going ashore and zodiac cruising at Fjortende Julibukta (14th of July Bay). Before that, it was time for a pre-lunch lecture from Expedition Guide Regis who shared his expertise of birds, specifically the auk family (puffins, guillemots, and the little auk). Then we went to our first delicious lunch to give us the energy we needed for our afternoon adventures ashore. It was truly a day of Arctic summer with the sun shining and clear blue skies as we arrived in Fjortende Julibukta. The Expedition Team thoroughly scouted all around the area to check there were no polar bears present and, once, they were reassured that the site was safe to visit, zodiacs began bringing us ashore. Expedition Guides were positioned around the perimeter of the shore, enabling us to walk between them and have a little freedom to explore at our own pace. Features of interest were the stunning glacier at one end of the shore and impressive cliffs home to nesting seabirds at the other end. Species which could be seen here included Black-legged Kittiwakes, Black Guillemot, Brünnich’s Guillemot and everyone’s favourite, the Atlanti c Puffin. Snow Bunting and B arnacle Geese were also observed with parent birds feeding and accompanying their cute, newly fledged chicks! Alongside the birds, Svalbard Reindeer were seen. Those interested in plant life were rewarded with a wide variety of flowers, these included Moss Campion, Tufted Saxifrage and Mountain Sorrel. After stretching our legs on shore guests returned to the landing site, embarking zodiacs and going for a cruise to get a closer view of the glacier and make a journey along the bird nesting cliffs, at sea level. Back on board everyone was gathering in the Observation Lounge for the Captain’s Cocktail and canapés when the announcement came that a Polar Bear had been seen swimming near the ship! Everyone flooded to the outside decks to get a view of this iconic Arctic animal which had been spotted by AEL Pierre. We watched the bear for a short time, then left it in peace to ensure it could progress to land without being disturbed. After that excitement, we returned to the Observation Lounge and Captain Artur Iakovlev introduced himself and welcomed everyone on board. We enjoyed socialising together before heading to the Dining Room. Once there, we were about to begin our starters when another bear announcement was made: our swimming bear had now made it to shore and was walking along the beach! The dining and hotel staff understood we did not want to miss this sight, so they kindly postponed dinner and we headed back outside. The Expedition Team had set up telescopes and helped guests to see the Polar Bear before we all returned to our tables to finish our evening meal. What an exciting end to our fantastic first day!

Day 3: Magdelenafjorden and Gullybukta

Magdelenafjorden and Gullybukta
Date: 09.07.2022
Position: 79°33.9’ N, 011°04.9’ E
Wind: W 4/5
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: +10

We awoke at Magdalenafjord and the view was spectacular. We had changed our original plans to escape the increasing wind and avoid the increased swell that was happening on the northern part of the island. The view of the fjord was majestic and, as we boarded the zodiacs fo r a cruise of the bay, everyone was in high spirits. The zodiac cruise took us past the cliffs where we witnessed masses of seabirds, guillemots and kittiwakes aplenty. A flock of barnacle geese modelled for our m any photographers, and we headed towards the face of Wagonwaybreen. This majestic glacier was beautiful in the m orning light, the blue of the newly exposed surfaces stealing the show. Once everyone had taken in the sights of the glacier front, we headed back towards the ship but not before making a small detour into a small bay to say hi to a small colony of curious harbour seals. These seals seemed just as interested in us as we were with them. As the sun was hiding behind the cloud and the wind was picking up, the outside temperature turned cooler which was a perfect time to head back to the ship for a warm drink. After lunch, we gathered back at the shell doors to embark on our zodiacs to be dropped off at Gullybukta. The exciting landing at the beach was the start of the afternoons adventure. From here, we could see nesting terns and red throated divers. We skirted around the coast, so as not to disturb the terns, and made our way to the beach. Once at the beach, we could see and smell the reason we had landed here, walruses lazing on the beach. Each animal fighting for his place in the huddle, tusks, and tails everywhere. The scene was completed by the glacier in the background that was occasionally carving, the noise echoing down the bay. As the cloud descended it was time to head back to the ship and head out into the waves that were building beyond the bay. We took the long way to get back on the ship and had the chance to admire the walruses from the water. Three specimens were playing in the water, near the shoreline. They were particularly active for such a big animal, especially that the ones we observed earlier were deeply asleep on the beach. As every day since the beginning of the trip, we ended it with the daily recap where Eduardo explained tomorrow’s plan, George talked about the country that are considered arctic countries and Laura explained why the ice is blue. The sound level was high in the dining room while everyone was excitingly chatting about today’s adventures.

Day 4: Day in the pack ice

Day in the pack ice
Date: 10.07.2022
Position: 81°18.1’ N, 021°46.7’ E
Wind: W 5
Weather: Fog
Air Temperature: 0

On Sunday we awoke at our northernmost destination – the pack ice. As we gazed out on the starboard side, we saw enormous flows of ice stretching as far as the eye could see, punctuated by deep black fractures of water and the occasional flock of birds. It was hard to believe that this landscape extends all the way to the north pole. A constant churning of sea ice, drifting across the world’s northern tip to where we floated off Svalbard. Shortly before breakfast, the captain made a course correction to starboard, steering our vessel straight into the ice. As we approached the ice edge, the ship’s hull began churning through the landscape, carving out a lead in search of wildlife. We were now in the ice, surrounded on all sides. On this day dedicated to ice and wildlife, our expedition team offered a variety of lectures, sharing their diverse knowledge and expertise with us all. Sara gave us an introduction to Polar bears, exploring, in sometimes gory detail, the incredible lives of these kings and queens of the north. This was followed by a fascinating presentation from Adam, describing the airship expeditions of Norge and Italia. As we sat in the lounge before and after his lecture, we considered what might have happened to Amundsen in his search for the crew of Italia – what terrible incident could have cost the world’s greatest explorer his life? Then, after another delicious lunch, we were treated to a lecture from Szymon, describing the sea ice conditions in the far north and sharing his predictions for the future of this frozen landscape. Shortly after, we were invited to the bow for mulled wine, relishing in the incredible landscape and gazing up at the ivory gulls flying overhead. Our final lecture was from Hazel who offered a presentation on arctic pinnipeds, examining how best to differentiate them from one another. Then, almost as if planned, Hazel was interrupted as she approached the end of her lecture by a pod of Harp seals, flying through the water on the port side. Everyone rushed to the windows as Hazel took the opportunity to point out some of their unique characteristics. As the day came to an end, Eduardo gathered us all in the lounge for a daily recap, presenting our plans for the next day in Seven Islands. As we departed the pack ice, we moved downstairs to the dining room, once again, enjoying another delicious meal from the galley team. A perfect end to an incredible day in the pack ice.

Day 5: Seven Islands- Phippsøya and Parryøya

Seven Islands- Phippsøya and Parryøya
Date: 11.07.2022
Position: 80°39.0’ N, 020°452.9’ E
Wind: E 2
Weather: Partially Cloudy
Air Temperature: +9

We started the day in the calm bay in front of Phippsoya. This beautiful location at the far north of Svalbard was noticeably cooler than the west side and the landscape much more barren and rugged. The morning consisted of a zodiac cruise to see the hut at Phippsoya, the most northerly building in Svalbard. This wooden hut stood lonely in the majestic geology that surrounded it, a reminder of just how hostile a place this is. We enjoyed the calm water of the bay which had beautiful blue colors, as we followed the hanging beaches around the coast in search for wildlife. After a few sightings of Arctic skua and our old friends the kittiwakes, we came across something we hadn’t yet seen on the trip, an arctic fox. This amazing little creature blended into its surroundings so well, it was hard to keep an eye on it. Its winter coat starting to shed, showed the brown summer coat in patches. Continuing our tour of the island, we encountered a small colony of Walrus, the young played around the adults and occasionally ventured for a swim. A spectacular sight to see these animals so at ease in their surroundings. Our last point of call was a lonely iceberg, the resplendent blue shining in the foreground as the grey overcast background looked foreboding. A beautiful ending to a wonderful morning’s cruise. The afternoon saw us leave the ship after a hearty lunch and we headed towards Parryoya, this island named after the explorer William Edward Parry and his 1827 attempt at getting to the North pole. It was a wonderful sight to behold. The zodiacs entered the sheltered bay and arrived at a beach surrounded by rugged mountainous rock formations. Some snow was left on the island giving it the Arctic feeling it deserved. The two hiking groups made their way up one of the embankments and hiked up to a viewpoint that really showed off this remarkable location. The hike wasn’t easy but was well worth it. The frost shattered rocks underfoot made for difficult footing and the way down was an interesting march across the remaining snowfield. Although there was not much wildlife in this northern barren landscape, the views more than made up for it. As the wind started to pick up, we headed back to the ship for a well-deserved warm drink. The daily recap held by Eduardo and his team started at 18:15 with an overview of tomorrow’s plan. This was followed by Carina who presented the life of the walruses of Svalbard and Sara who talked about the Arctic Fox, our exciting sightings of the day. After dinner, we were invited into the lecture room to watch a beautiful movie about migratory birds. This documentary was a footage of bird on their migratory routes, mixed with a southing soundtrack.

Day 6: Alkefjellet, Torellnesset and Bråsvellbreen

Alkefjellet, Torellnesset and Bråsvellbreen
Date: 12.07.2022
Position: 79°35.0’ N, 018°35.5’ E
Wind: S 5
Weather: Rainy
Air Temperature: +3

Our wake-up call from Expedition Leader Eduardo came at 7:30am and shortly afterwards, we headed to breakfast. Then, it was time for our morning zodiac cruise in a truly awe-inspiring location: the towering cliffs of Alkefjellet with cascades of meltwater along a vertical cliff and thousands of seabirds. Although it was raining a little, the waters were fairly calm which gave us pleasant cruising conditions. As the Expedition Team drove us towards the cliffs, in the zodiacs, we marvelled at the sight before us. 60,000 pairs of Brünnich’s Guillemot (aka Thick-billed Murre) arrive at Alkefjellet to breed every Spring and Summer. They reunite with their partner, whom they have been separate from during the non-breeding period of Autumn and Winter, spending this time far out at sea, mate and a few days later the female lays a single egg. The pair incubate the egg over a period of 26-39 days and then once it hatches take turns to feed the chick until it fledges. Seeing around 120,000 birds perched on the ledges of rock, flying to and from their nests, with yet more resting/feeding out on the water, was truly unbelievable! Alongside the unforgettable sight of the guillemots, there were other birds too such as Black-legged Kittiwakes, Glaucous Gulls, Black Guillemots and Barnacle Geese. The fantastic furry finale to our morning was the sight of two Arctic Foxes! We had brilliant views of them running along the mountainside, quickly darting from rock to rock with ease. These little animals are hard to spot, but seabird colonies are a good place to look for them as there is so much prey available in this area. What a fantastic morning of wildlife and scenery! Back on board it was time for lunch, a delicious buffet from Head Chef Ralf and his galley team, prior to our afternoon activity. We were scheduled to go ashore at Torrelneset, a site where large numbers of Atlantic Walrus often haul out to rest. However, upon scouting from the bridge, Expedition Leader Eduardo spotted a Polar Bear resting on some snow! The bear was located very close to where we had planned to go ashore and, whenever, one is seen in the vicinity, it means we cannot go on to land as a matter of safety. The Expedition Team hurried into action to try and launch Plan B; a zodiac cruise to take guests to see the bear from the water. Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that the strong winds were gusting at levels which would make zodiac cruising impossible. By that time the bear had also gotten up and started walking into the distance, so Plan B was dropped. Plan C then! We all remained on board and Expedition Guide Carina gave a fantastic lecture about whales and dolphins whilst we waited a little while to see what our bear would do next. During the lecture, some Expedition Guides remained on watch from the bridge and Hazel spotted something in the distance: THREE more Polar Bears! A mother and two large cubs! An announcement was made, and telescopes positioned so guests could view them. Even though they were quite distant, everyone was happy to have seen four bears in this one day. Then, the Captain and Bridge Officers repositioned M/V Hondius. We were now heading for an alternative site, Russbukta, to attempt to go ashore there later in the afternoon. When we arrived at Russbukta the winds were still too strong and large rolling breaker waves were crashing on to shore meaning we couldn’t go out today despite everyone’s best efforts. Regardless of this, everyone was cheerful and had enjoyed their day on board as they headed to the Daily Recap followed by dinner. After dinner, we ship cruised beside the incredible Bråsvellbreen ice cap, the second biggest in the arctic. Waterfalls cascaded down along the length of the spectacular wall of ice and some Walrus were seen swimming along. This was a great end to our day, and we headed to bed wondering what excitement tomorrow might bring.

Day 7: Sundneset and Russebukta

Sundneset and Russebukta
Date: 13.07.2022
Position: 78°17.1’ N, 021°07.0’ E
Wind: W 4
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +6

We were awoken earlier than expected this morning with good news – a polar bear had been spotted walking alongside the vessel. Even though it was 6:15 am, we jumped out of bed, quickly dressed and flew to the outside decks so we might get a glimpse of the ‘king of the Arctic’ as it trekked along the shoreline. This beautiful, healthy bear was walking with purpose, very near to Hondius. However, after an hour, it retreated inland towards the mountains of Edgoya. As the bear disappeared into the mist, we continued our journey west, moving towards our landing site, Sundnesset. As we enjoyed a delicious breakfast in the dining room, the Expedition team scouted the landing site, searching for more signs of polar bears. The team knew well that this area was known for bears, so everybody was on the lookout. That was not for nothing as Laura from the expedition team spotted a mother with a cub resting on the raised beach, in the far distance. Whilst this meant we could enjoy another beautiful bear siting, it meant that the landing had to be canceled. However, the expedition team quickly sprang into action, jumping to plan B, a zodiac cruise along the shoreline. During our cruise we enjoyed birds in the water, Northern Fulmar flying overhead, and reindeers slowly walking across the beautiful landscapes. Meanwhile, the rain, fog and the rugged landscapes of the mountains brought a unique atmosphere to the area. What a spectacle! After our zodiac cruise, we hauled anchor and headed further south towards Kapp Lee. During our transit, George gave a lecture on sovereignty in the Arctic, untangling the complex world of polar geopolitics. However, upon our arrival we found 35knotts of wind, making any zodiac operations impossible. Instead, the decision was made to continue further south to another destination, Russebukta. During our transit, the expedition team kept an eye on the western shore of Edgoya, hoping to find more wildlife. Meanwhile, Laura entertained us with a lecture on Svalbard’s geology, stretching back nearly 4 billion years. By 4pm, we had reached our destination. As we clambered ashore at Russebukta, we were met by flocks of pink-footed geese, herds of reindeer and enormous patches of Svalbard Poppies – the national flower of Svalbard. After a hike across the tundra, we returned to Hondius for a short recap and a scrumptious dinner after our afternoon excursion. The highlight of our meal, of course, was the salted caramel tart prepared by the incredible galley team, this delicious desert serving as a cherry on the cake of another incredible day circumnavigating Svalbard.

Day 8: Samarinbreen and Burgerbukta

Samarinbreen and Burgerbukta
Date: 14.07.2022
Position: 76°58.1’ N, 015°48.8’ E
Wind: SE 5
Weather: Foggy
Air Temperature: +5

As we approached Hornsund, on our way to Samarinbreen, the wind started to pick up. The gusts reaching up to 48 knots, and the cool breeze blowing over the glaciers gave the air a chilly arctic feel. A large fog bank lay in our direction of travel, we slowed down and entered the fogs icy embrace. The bay with Samarinbreen lay ahead and as the fog lifted, we could see the glacier in all its beauty. As we launched the zodiacs ready for our departure for our morning activity, blue sky appeared above us, and the last tendrils of fog clung to the mountains. The entire glacier front was spectacular, the blue ice visible in all its glory against the grey backdrop and the low clouds made for a very atmospheric and scenic zodiac cruise. After lunch, we braved the cold once more and headed out on the zodiacs. Our plan A had to be amended due to wind, so our hike was changed to another beautiful zodiac cruise. The bay at Burgerbukta is a wonderful glacial valley, with some spectacular geology. In the same area, you have an overview of more than 100 000 of years of geological history. This was a condensate of Svalbard geology. The cloud hung low over the mountains and the bay was littered with perfect hues of blue iceberg and growlers. We were greeted by bearded seals and Ivory gulls. At the far end, was the glacier front. On the way to the glacier, we could see waterfalls cascading over the high cliffs and even a pressure waterfall coming straight out of the base of the mountain itself. The deposition of oxide of iron on the cliffs gave the rocks a vibrant orange color surrounded by some black metamorphic rocks. Seating in our tiny zodiacs, we were feeling the enormous scale of the mountains surrounding the fjord. As the afternoon wore on, the temperature dropped, and the wind picked up. After all we had seen it was the ideal time to head back to the ship and prepare for the evenings BBQ amongst this special and spectacular scenery. Thankful for another day around Svalbard, we enjoyed some music on the outside decks.

Day 9: Skansbukta and Colesbukta

Skansbukta and Colesbukta
Date: 15.07.2022
Position: 78°25.8’ N, 015°53.7’ E
Wind: ESE 5
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +8

Our last day of the trip started with an overcast sky, some light wind, and warm summer temperatures, for the region. Eduardo woke us up with a nice symphony from the Travelling bird movie, before announcing that we were on our way to 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. We slowly made our way to the restaurant for the breakfast, while the ship was anchoring in the bay. As we were boarding zodiacs, the sun start shining in between the clouds. Before landing we went to visit the bird cliff where we saw some puffins nesting. It was one last amazing sighting of these colorful birds. Then, we got on the beach of this fantastic location full of interest, from a wide variety of plant life to fascinating historical features. A twisted, rusting railway, remains of mining operations for Anhydrite, desiccated version of Gypsum, (which ran from 1918 – 1930’s by the Dalen Portland Cement Works), and a small-wrecked ship were items of significance at this site. Additionally, there was a trapper’s hut, built in the early 1900’s but well maintained and still in use by locals today. In terms of plant life, Mountain Avens, Arctic Bell Heather, Tufted Saxifrage, Drooping Saxifrage, Snow Saxifrage, Ellesmerel, Woolly Lousewort, Hairy Lousewort, Pale Whitlow-grass, Sulphur Butt ercup, Hawkweed-leaved Saxifrage, Northern Golden Saxifrage, Mountain Sorrel were all observed. The towering mountains surrounding the landing area were an impressive sight and host to large numbers of nesting seabird. Later in the morning, we were gifted with a bright blue-sky, right-on time for the polar plunge. The bravest of the group got ready and jumped in the cold water of the Arctic Ocean. Surprisingly, due to the warm temperatures of the past weeks, the water was less cold than expected. However, it was not warm enough to swim around and we quickly got out of the water, got dressed, boarded the zodiacs, and headed back to the ship. What a fantastic last morning! In the afternoon, we did a last landing in Coles Bay, an old Russian mining settlement that was active between 1913 and 1961. At the time, it was the biggest active mine with up to 1000 people living on shore. After a thoughtfully scout to make sure they were no bear on the site, we started a guided walk, divided into two groups. As we were heading up the slope to enjoy a view of the bay, we admired the old, rusted buildings that were part of the factory and the mining settlement. In between, we observed some small but oh so colorful flower like the purple saxifrage, polar willow or the tufted saxifrage. Some Purple sandpipers were flying around, and, at the back, we had the chance to see some reindeers feeding on the lichen. Again, even with the sky being overcast, it felt like a proper summer day with some warm temperature. As we were slowly making our way back to the landing site, we were saying goodbye to Svalbard, the Arctic and an amazing trip in the polar regions. The day was not over, as we had to pack, clean, and get ready for the last night onboard. First, we got called to bring back our boots and then Eduardo invited us for the last recap of the trip. It was a special one with a word from Captain Arthur, Expedition Leader Eduardo and Hotel Manager William. To finish on a happy note, Mikhail had prepared a slideshow with the memories of the trip. Wow, it felt like forever ago, the moment we got onboard Hondius. We made the trip around the island, and we were coming back with our head full of memories and our memory cards full of photos. After a well-deserved dinner and a last drink at the bar, we all headed to bed to be ready for tomorrow’s disembarkation.

Day 10: Longyearbyen - Disembarkation

Longyearbyen - Disembarkation
Date: 16.07.2022
Position: 78°14.0’ N, 015°37.6’ E
Wind: SE 5
Weather: Clear Sky
Air Temperature: +8

Surely our Arctic adventure was not over already?! Sadly yes, after our final wake-up call at 6:30am by EL Eduardo, it was time for our last breakfast on board M/V Hondius. Passengers disembarked via the gangway and were reunited with their luggage before boarding the awaiting coaches or strolling into the town. Everyone said goodbye to the friendly Expedition Team and departed, smiling and reflecting upon a wonderful expedition cruise! 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: 1177.3 nm Northern most position: 81°18.1’ N, 021°46.7’ 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: HDS07-22
Dates: 7 Jul - 16 Jul, 2022
Duration: 9 nights
Ship: m/v Hondius
Embark: Longyearbyen
Disembark: Longyearbyen

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