HDS08-19, trip log, Around Spitsbergen

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Embarkation, Longyearbyen

Embarkation, Longyearbyen
Date: 14.07.2019
Position: 78°13’.62 N, 015°38’.50 E
Wind: W4
Weather: cloudy
Air Temperature: +5

As the plane was coming down to Svalbard, the first postcards of the Arctic showed up. We could see the Southwest side of the archipelago, with the beautiful mountain range and glaciers surrounding Longyearbyen. Oceanwide staff members were waiting for us at the airport to a warm welcome to our exploration of Spitsbergen. After recovering our luggage, we were finally ready to enjoy a couple of hours in town before embarking what was going to be our home for the next ten days: MV Hondius. Longyearbyen, “the city of the long year”, was founded in 1906 by the US-American entrepreneur John Munro Longyear. But the truth is, the history of the area goes back in time to the years of the Pomors, hunters from the north coast of Russia, and the officially documented “discovery” of Spitsbergen by Willem Barentsz in 1596. Svalbard and its stories of whalers, hunters, trappers, miners and scientists from different nations, make the archipelago very attractive not only from a wildlife point of view, but also from its historical and scenic angle. Base to some of the most amazing voyages to the North Pole, like the Amundsen and Nobile aerial trips, makes visitors transport themselves back in time to the era of early exploration. With a big smile and our eyes wide open to look for wildlife in the open decks, we were ready to start our adventure. Mandatory safety briefings were to be attended, and a familiarization of the ship, but the “cherry on the pie” was the delicious dinner served in the dining room by our Chef Ralf. We still had one more activity to go: our rubber boots were being distribute! Down at the Expedition Room, we sorted out our sizes, picked up our small boat life jackets and finally, we were ready to jump on the boats for our first excursion next day. After a first afternoon meeting our staff, crew and fellow expeditionary friends, we headed to the bar to share a drink before going to bed.

Day 2: Sailing North and Ny Ålesund

Sailing North and Ny Ålesund
Date: 15.07.2019
Position: 79°10’.7 N, 011°46’.0 E
Wind: NW2
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +7

A smooth night of sailing had allowed us to navigate north, past Prins Karls Forland and up into Krossfjord. As Adam woke us up at 7:15 we cruised into Lilliehöökfjord. Despite a little low-lying cloud and mist we could still clearly see Lilliehöökbreen at the end of the fjord, 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 the last 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. At 9:30am we gathered in the lounge for some mandatory briefings and to hear about the plans for the voyage. Before the official briefings the Expedition Team introduced themselves individually, an international bunch who will be driving us ashore, giving lectures, leading hikes, keeping us safe and ensuring we get the best possible experience during our trip. Adam then continued with the three mandatory briefs which are needed before going a shore in Svalbard, AECO Arctic protocol, zodiac operations and polar bear safety. The meeting concluded with the plans for the rest of the day, a landing at Ny Ålesund. Over lunch we sailed into Kongsfjorden (Kings Bay) so as to be in position for our afternoon activity at Ny Ålesund. This former coal mining settlement 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. Despite there being no permeant population of families or children in Ny Ålesund, nearly 200 scientists work in there during the summer months, reducing to less than 50 in the winter. We were shuttled ashore by zodiac and given time to wander around the museum, visit the small gift shop and send post cards home to loved ones before having the option to join one of the three designated walks. All three groups enjoyed the abundance of flowers and birdlife that could be seen , the first Arctic Fox and Harbour Seals of the voyage were also spotted by some of the groups and for the keen birders there were lots of Arctic Terns, Barnacle Geese, Eider Ducks and Snow Bunting, as well as the much sought after Ivory Gull. All groups went via the mast that was used to anchor a Zeppelin airship in 1926 which is found on the edge of the settlement. 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, Adam led a short recap where he discussed the plans for tomorrow and Sara spoke about how we hope to spot our first Polar Bear. After which it was time to meet our captain, Remmert Jan Koster, 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.

Day 3: Texas Bar and Monacobreen

Texas Bar and Monacobreen
Date: 16.07.2019
Position: 79°36’.4 N, 012°43’.9 E
Wind: SW3
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: +4

We woke up in the calm seas of Liftefjord with an overview of the iceberg graveyard. The sky was overcast and the temperature was warm. As we approached our designated landing site at Texas Bar, we encountered beautiful bergy bits and growlers that reflected the blue light from the morning sun that pocked through the clouds. The Staff team started earlier in order to scout the shore line and eventually the hills, as our plan was to take a hike onto higher grounds to enjoy the wonderful views that this bay had to offer. After breakfast, we got on the zodiacs and zipped to shore onto two different locations. On the first one, a group started on a longer hike that climbed about 200 meters over sea level, reaching a view point where we could see Monacobreen, the glacier where we would head for our afternoon excursion. The second site was designated for two different hikes, one of a medium length and the second one a stroll close to the small hut that gives the name to this location. Texas Bar was a trapper’s hut, built in 1929 and used over a couple of decades before the trapping and hunting became obsolete in these regions. Now a days, this hut belongs to the Sysellmannen (Svalbard Government and law enforcement Beaurou), and is used for logistics and occasionally by the locals from Longyearbyen over spring time on snowmobile trips. On the hikes, we were able to spot Skuas, Kittywakes, Snow buntings and other feathered friends. We spotted Reindeer tracks, and we were all on the lookout for these amazing Svalbard species. As all the trekking groups made it to Texas bar landing site, we were able to enjoy a polar plunge! Some of us were brave enough to dive into the frigid waters of the Arctic ocean, to come out revigorated and definitely ready for a hot shower and lunch. Zodiac drivers took us back to Hondius where the Hotel team was waiting for us. In the afternoon, around 14:30 we went on a zodiac cruise expedition. All wrapped up and warm, we got on the boats to go explore the ice around Monacobreen. Incredible ice sculptures, glittering brash ice and rigid walls of ice from the front of the glacier gave us a perfect frame for the thousands of pictures that were snapped on this location. As we were getting to the end of this excursion, the expedition staff spotted some seals! Bearded and harbor seals were swimming amongst the ice, and eventually a bearded seal climbed up on an ice floe. It seemed to pose for some photos as we quietly cruised close by. The expedition team reminded us to keep our volume low as these seals are skittish, and afraid of any sound. Engines of the boats were turned off and we enjoyed some minutes of silence as we looked at the resting seal. Some Eider ducks flew over our heads in pairs, Kittywakes fed in front of the glacier face and Brünich’s guillemots floated in the vicinity. After coming back to the ship, and as we were being entertained and educated at our usual daily recap, whales showed up! A couple of Fin whales, a Humpback and a Minke whale were feeding in the entrance of Liftefjord bay. Officers on the bridge slowly maneuvered through the whales in order to not disturb them as they fed close to the ship. Dinner was served at 19:30, and we thought our exciting day had finally come to an end, but another surprise was waiting for us. While having dinner, our experienced staff members spotted Polar Bears! As dinner was coming to an end, an announcement was made that a mother and a cub had been seen on the side of the mountains that lead to a point on the east side of Liftefjord bay entrance. We rushed outside to find that two scopes were set on the outer decks so we could see the bears as they played and rested on the slopes and snow patches on the side of the hills. This is our third day onboard Hondius, and our experience in the Arctic region is getting better every day! And we thought it was over, again… but at 23:50 hours, many of us already in bed, we were woken up by the horn as we crossed the 80° North! Out we went again for the last couple of pictures, and we finally call it a day.

Day 4: Fjortende Julibukta and sailing South on the West coast of Prins Karls Forland

Fjortende Julibukta and sailing South on the West coast of Prins Karls Forland
Date: 17.07.2019
Position: 79°07’.5 N, 011°48’.3 E
Wind: NW4
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +10

Another bright day, another fun day on Svalbard! This morning, we went to a place called 14. Julibukta (14th of July Bay) in Krossfjord (Cross Fjord, named for the wooden cross erected there by the English whaler Jonas Poole in 1610). One half of the passengers made a landing first, while the other half went for a zodiac cruise along the beach and a small puffin colony (Fratercula arctica); and vice versa about an hour later. The zodiac cruise was specifically directed towards said puffin colony and to have a good opportunity to take a few shots of these clownesque –yet cute– little birds. The party ashore was arguably equally fun, with opportunities to have a close look at the 14. Julibreen (14th of July Glacier) and the hanging gardens, the writer’s personal favourite place. There was a plethora of wildlife ashore, including arctic foxes (Alopex lagopus), Svalbard reindeer (Rangifer tarandus platyrhynchus), pink-footed geese (Anser brachyrhynchus) and snow buntings with fledglings (Plectrophenax nivalis) under a towering cliff with a loud kittiwake colony (Rissa tridactyla). The sheltered, south-facing hanging garden, forms the perfect habitat for a lush vegetation: protected from most winds and allowing the plants to soak up every bit of precious sunlight. This allows the very local flora, including mountain sorrel (Oxyria digyna), arctic mouse-ear (Cerastium arcticum), and drooping saxifrage (Saxifraga cernua) to grow remarkably tall to Svalbard standards. In the afternoon, staff opted to check out an –obviously male– sperm whale carcass (Physeter macrocephalus) on Fuglehuken (Bird Point, referring to the bird colonies in the area) on Prins Karls Forland. Although decaying whale carcasses often attract well over a dozen polar bears (Ursus maritimus), the current carcass was still too “fresh” for them and there were no sightings of bears. On the bright side, though, the sighting of a fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) with a small pod of white-beaked dolphins (Lagenorhynchus albirostris) off the west coast of Prins Karls Forland made everyone’s afternoon a big success! Later in the evening, the few people in the bar got treated with the sighting of a second group of five to six white-beaked dolphins swimming along the ship for another couple of minutes; making today a day to remember.

Day 5: Camp Millar and sailing East

Camp Millar and sailing East
Date: 18.07.2019
Position: 77°44’.5 N, 014°21’.1 E
Wind: NW4
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: +8

We were woken up by Adam, our expedition leader, at 7:30, and together with our location we received good information about weather at Camp Millar which was our destination for a landing. Beside swell and wind reaching almost 20 knots, weather was good. After a tasty breakfast prepared by the galley team, we dressed up quickly wearing warm clothes and lifejackets. We queued up close to the shell doors ready to board zodiacs, and just after 9 o’clock, we were already landed inside the beautiful bay surrounded by rounded rocks smoothed by waves and wind. Just above the small hill we could see two huts of Camp Millar erected in the early 1900s by one of the most famous expedition company based on Spitsbergen: NEC – Northern Exploration Company, which started mining in Bellsund looking for zinc, asbestos, coal, gold and other minerals. During the walk, we could also hear and admire wonderful wildlife; reindeers together with cute and white newborns roaming the rich tundra full of plants with flowers and polar willow, hills of Ingeborgfjellet fully packed with loud Little Auks and Arctic foxes which tried to sneak closer to little auks who still had a few eggs. After a couple of hours on land, we had to come back to Hondius for lunch and be ready for 20 hours of cruising to our next destination which was on Edgeoya – Kapp Lee. During that time, our expedition team prepared for us a series of Lectures: at 3 pm Florence spoke about an amazing story of Willem Barents and the early discovery of Spitsbergen, and after a short break for a cup of coffee and cake in the lounge, Meike, Szymon and Laurence invited us to the lecture room for a series of three lectures about Geography of Svalbard, Climate of Svalbard and the Amazing life of Auks. At 6:30, Adam gave us plans for tomorrow at recap in the lounge, and later on, Sara talked about the Arctic fox which we could see during the morning. Florence presented detailed information about the landing site and just after 7 pm, we sat comfortably in the dining room to admire the delicious food prepared by our chef Ralf.

Day 6: Sundneset and Kapp Lee

Sundneset and Kapp Lee
Date: 19.07.2019
Position: 78°10’.3 N, 020°58’.7 E
Wind: SW4
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +6

After sailing overnight, what a pleasure to wake this morning to sun and stunning mountains surrounding the ship. Our plan was to land at Kapp Lee for some quality hiking and a visit with the local walrus bachelors. As we looked a bit closer, however, we realized that some sea ice was packed up against the shore where we wanted to land. Our fearless expedition team, determined as they were, jumped into a zodiac to see if there was any route we could take that would get us safely to shore then back to the ship. Alas, the ice was too closely packed to push through and the wind would have made it dangerous to land. So off we went to what had originally been our plan for the afternoon – a landing at Sundneset with a variety of hikes and walks. Sundneset is such a beautiful place to spend time, a landscape of rolling lowlands with outcrops of dioritic bedrock sculpted by ice age glaciers and bejeweled with lovely freshwater lakes. The group that was keen on getting an unforgettable view departed for shore first and were off to “bag the peak” of Fuglehallet at 272m or almost 900 ft in about 4.2 km each way. Seeing them on top from near the landing sight gave us a great perspective of how small we really are in this landscape. The rest of us split into smaller groups based on interest and explored the landscape near the lakes. We found large groups of Barnacle and Pink-footed geese as well as Long-tailed ducks along with snow buntings flitting about the tundra trying to find enough to feed their young before they need to head south. Reindeer were plentiful and looking quite dapper in their summer coats, their antlers still covered in velvet. During lunch, the captain and expedition team decided to sail back to Kapp Lee to see if the ice had shifted enough for us to see the walrus. It was looking good but the ice was still lingering and with the continued wind, tide and currents around the cape, the decision was made to attempt a short zodiac cruise past the beach where they haul out. We dropped 8 zodiacs and half the ship boarded, made their way through the ice flows and had a nice visit the bachelors sleeping on shore. As the group was ready to return, we saw the clouds begin to drop down over the mountain and within minutes the entire landscape disappeared into a dense fog. It gives one a great sense of respect and appreciation for how quickly conditions can change and the dangers of not being prepared. Our team evaluated the situation and though they knew that those who did not get to go might be disappointed, safety comes first so they cancelled the second group’s cruise. We stayed in the area to see if the fog would lift but it just was not to be. Fortunately, the team is always thinking ahead and already had in place another location for us to visit with walrus so we still have something to look forward to. The evening was capped off with a scrumptious arctic bbq on the back deck followed by dancing and general merriment. Tomorrow we are off to the pack ice and another day filled with surprises.

Day 7: Pack ice: in search for Polar bears

Pack ice: in search for Polar bears
Date: 20.07.2019
Position: 78°37’.5 N, 022°53’.9 E
Wind: E2
Weather: Fog
Air Temperature: 0

A few of us awoke before the wake-up call, roused from our slumbers by the irregular movement of Hondius as she forced her way into the maze of pack ice at the eastern edge of Freemansundet. We peered groggily out of cabin windows and found ourselves in a moving monotone world of mist and sea ice. We stood for a second absorbing this stark seascape until we heard the now familiar morning bing-bong, followed by the estuarine tones of Adam. He announced that the weather was foggy, and a gentle south-easterly breeze was ruffling the sea surface between the ice floes. After another sumptuous breakfast we headed out onto the decks to take in the sights and sounds of the pack-ice; a truly wild Arctic environment. Outside it was a brisk -1°C, compounded by the breeze and the damp air. From vantage points around the boat we scanned the ice, looking for signs of life; we saw guillemots, a bearded seal, and plenty of kittiwakes and fulmars wheeling above the leads of open water. As the morning progressed, we pressed northwards and the fog closed in around Hondius. An impromptu lecture on glaciology was announced. Laurence gave a lecture in the lounge whilst Jerry presented in Chinese in the lecture theatre. We learned about how glaciers are formed, how they flow, and how they mold the landscapes that they occupy. We also heard about the diverse and unique glaciers on Svalbard; this relatively small archipelago in the high Arctic hosts some of the most interesting glaciers on Earth and glaciologists are still working to understand their complex behavior. After lunch the fog began to thin, and as we passed among the roiling banks of fog, we could occasionally get a glimpse of clear skies. Eventually we could also see the distant peaks of Edgeøya and Barentsøya, sentinels guarding the waters of Hinlopenstretet. The wind had eased through the morning, and died completely in the afternoon; the sea was a dark mirror, reflecting the grey of the glowering Arctic sky. As the visibility improved, we spotted a juvenile walrus in the distance, hauled-out on an ice floe. We cautiously approached, careful not to disturb the slumbering giant. Just as we were leaving the walrus, we had an announcement from Adam, two polar bears had been spotted in the distance! We hurriedly grabbed our coats, binoculars, and cameras, and headed for a vantage point on the outer-decks. As Hondius drew slowly closer we realized that there were in fact three bears; a mother with two young cubs! We watched from a respectful distance as the mother bear roamed across a large plate of sea ice, stalking the seals resting on the ice. The cubs followed her at a distance of several hundred meters, giving her a little space to hunt. We spent a glorious couple of hours observing these beautiful animals before reluctantly heading off once more, bound for Freemansundet and the island of Spitsbergen, our destination for the morning. Our afternoon of surprises was not quite over yet; our Hotel Manager Michael announced that hot chocolate would be served on the front deck, replete with lashings of cream and a hearty tot of rum! Steaming drinks in hand, we gathered for an impromptu group photo taken by Sara from a perch high on the decks above. We lingered on deck as conditions outside were magical; the surface of the ocean was absolutely free of flaws; a perfect mirror all the way to the horizon. As we stood and took it all in guillemots, fulmars, kittiwakes, and even an Arctic skua passed low over the water around Hondius. Eventually we tore ourselves away from this beautiful scene and headed to the lounge for recap. Adam explained the plans for tomorrow; we are heading to the southern fjord of Hornsund. Melissa followed with a presentation about sea ice, explaining how it forms and its importance as a habitat and as a substrate for life; sea ice underpins the base of the Arctic food web. Sara then gave a presentation on marine mammal identification, giving rafts of useful information about pinnipeds and how to distinguish the different species. Dinner was excellent as usual, but this evening was extra special as it was complemented by amazing views from the dining room windows. As we dined Hondius made her way through the narrow channel of Freemansundet, steep walls of sedimentary rocks towered above us and the billowing banks of fog shrouded drifting bands of sea ice, the whole scene was lit gold by the evening sun.

Day 8: Hornsund and Burgerbukta

Hornsund and Burgerbukta
Date: 21.07.2019
Position: 76°23’.4 N, 016°48’.1 E
Wind: W2
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +5

Amazing sunshine at the horizon this early Sunday Moring as the Hondius sailed heading to round the south tip of Svalbard making our way to Hornsund. For those who were awake early this morning, 2 blue whales appeared not far from the ship. The sun trying its very best, the clouds started to roll molting into a thick fog for the morning. After breakfast, we all made our way to the lounge to listen to Sara’s bear lecture. A great opportunity to learn more about bear behavior after yesterday’s incredible encounter with the mother and two cubs. And for those who did not go outside to enjoy the scenery this morning, a visit to the library with a coffee or tea was a great way to recharge after the exhausting day taking in all the incredible impressions of sailing through the pack ice on yesterday’s voyage. After a lovely lunch, the Hondius sailed towards the afternoon destination for a zodiac cruise in Burgabukta. As we sailed closer to the glacier, the fog rolled in once again and Captain Remmert and Expedition Leader Adam decided to change plans and sail to Storbreen: a very large glacier. The Hondius sailed into Brepollen – a wide bay with an almost completely glacial coastline constituted by both the Horn- and the Storbreen glaciers, while guides and guests alike were scanning the shores for Polar Bears. Even though we did not spot any bears, the scenery was breath-taking. The sun has fought its way through the clouds and the glacier fronts open up a marvellous landscape in front of us. One by one, the zodiacs were put the water and the drivers were eagerly awaiting to embark the passengers into their zodiacs for a breathtaking cruise. Kittiwakes and Artic terns were flying above and along the ice while zodiacs move through the brash ice towards the glacier front. It was hard to stop enjoying it, but eventually, it was time to turn back to the ship around 5 o’clock. But not for everybody… A special zodiac delegation with 6 of our youngest guests was organized by Pierre & Meike. The kids helped Pierre to drag a plankton net behind the boat to catch water samples. These samples were taken on board and during the evening recap, the water samples were put under the microscope. Attached to the screens in the lounge, we could all see the copepods displayed on a huge screen while Pierre explained about the secret life of plankton, something most of us had never seen in real life. This to the great delight of our youngest guest. Adam gave us the plans for the following day, followed by hotel manager Michael with information about disembarkation day. Something most of us did not wanted to think about yet, having yet another full day of expedition ahead of us. Chef’s fantastic dinner was waiting for us in the dining room, while the Hondius sailed in open waters towards tomorrows destination the walruses at Poolepynten.

Day 9: Poolepinten and Yoldiabukta

Poolepinten and Yoldiabukta
Date: 22.07.2019
Position: 78°76’.2 N, 011°56’.0 E
Wind: SSW6
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: +6

Today we started the day with a landing on the long-awaited site of Poolepynten where a nice colony of walrus has established itself. There were about 20 Walruses hauled out on the beach and we were able to observe them for about 20 minutes per group. There were also some Walruses in the water and it was very interesting to watch them interact with each other and walk onto the beach. We were all impressed by their size and the length of their tusks. These Walruses are believed to have recolonized Svalbard from Franz Josef land after the local population had been exterminated by hunters in the past. Most walrus in these waters nowadays are males, but some females with pups have been observed, indicating that there is a new local population establishing itself in Svalbard. A jolly good piece of news! We were all happy to get back on board for a nice cup of hot tea, after which we had lunch. In the afternoon we sailed further South in the direction of Longyearbean and we all participated in an Arctic Quiz organized by our expedition guide Sara. The questions were pretty difficult but all the teams did very well. There was a tied second and third place between “The Svalbard Adelaidians” and “Kangaroos and pandas”. The first place went to the team called “Jack”. We then went on cruising through the fjords and visiting glaciers in Isfjorden, before returning our boots and joining the captain’s cocktail. It is captain Remmert Jan Koster’s first trip with Hondius and we very much appreciated his professionalism and abilities to safely navigate through the ice. Time for our farewell dinner.

Day 10: Longyearbyen

Date: 23.07.2019
Position: 78°14’.61 N, 015°32’.60 E
Wind: S2
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +3

As our last night onboard was rolling up in the bar, some of us had our last drink and a toast for the great voyage before heading down to the pier and waving good bye to our new friends. The first bus was picking up some guests shortly after midnight to make it on time for the 2 am flight out of Longyearbyen. Early morning, bright and shine, we were all woken up by our Expedition Leader Adam, leading to the second announcement of the day: our always joyful Hotel Manager Michael, calling us for breakfast in the dining room. As coffee and tea was being poured in our mugs, we knew the adventure was about to finished. A voyage of exploration, discovery and learning was coming to an end, but the memories and incredible sightings will remain with us forever. The Oceanwide staff and crew offloaded our luggage to the pier, and as we were shuttled to the jetty, the last hugs and goodbyes were spread amongst our fellow travelers. Goodbye, Hondius, see you soon, maybe in the southern seas and Antarctica. 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: 1405 nautical miles Furthest North: 80°00’.15 N, 013°24’.37 E On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Remmert Jan Koster, Expedition Leader Adam Turner, Hotel Manager Michael Frauendorfer and all the crew and staff, it has been a pleasure travelling with you.


Tripcode: HDS08-19
Dates: 14 Jul - 23 Jul, 2019
Duration: 9 nights
Ship: m/v Hondius
Embark: Longyearbyen
Disembark: Longyearbyen

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