HDS11X22, trip log, North Spitsbergen - Farthest North

by Oceanwide Expeditions

Logbook

Day 1: Longyearbyen

Longyearbyen
Date: 16.08.2022
Position: 78°14.5’ N, 11°58.8’ E
Wind: SE 26
Weather: Windy and Overcast
Air Temperature: +6

Our Arctic adventure began on a grey, blustery afternoon. We made our way to the dock near Longyearbyen where MV Hondius, our home for the next week, awaited. As we got onboard, we were welcomed by the hotel department and Karolina, the receptionist, who handed us the keys to our rooms. As we were discovering the vessel, we naturally made our way to the observation lounge where coffee and tea were waiting for us, but also where we will have the best view of the surrounding landscape. We anticipated spending lots of time in this space looking out the window, making sure we will not miss any sightings of wildlife, and chatting to old and new friends. Strong winds were blowing Hondius directly onto the dock making the launch a very tricky and delicate manoeuvre for Captain Toni and his crew. They made it look easy. As we set sail, we received a warm welcome and orientation briefing from our Hotel Manager Michael and Expedition Leader (EL) Sara. They gave us an overview of life on board and how to access important information concerning our daily schedules. Then came our first introduction to the Expedition Team who will be helping us to make the most of this adventure with their knowledge of flora, fauna, ice, geology, history and more. Finally, Sara showed Plan A for the voyage – with the understanding that any expedition requires constant making of Plans B, C, D and more as conditions change. With that introduction complete we attended the mandatory safety briefing. Sara and Second Officer Sven explained the major risks and how to avoid them. The Expedition Team demonstrated how to put on the life jackets and floatation suits that are stored in our cabins in the event of an emergency. When the alarm was sounded, we all made our way to our muster stations, either the Observation Lounge or the Restaurant. Once all of us had arrived, and confirmed that we were wearing our lifejackets correctly, we were conducted to the lifeboats just as if we were abandoning ship. Some took the chance to check out the emergency accommodation in the lifeboats. It felt good to know what to do if required. It felt even better to head to Deck 4 for our first visit to the restaurant to sample the delicious food prepared by Chef Khabir and the galley team. Thus fortified, we were called down to the shell doors to get fitted for our Muck Boots which turned into dancing shoes as we rocked out with the Expedition Team. As the day drew to a close there were dolphin and whale sightings, and the sun got low enough in the sky to give dramatic “sunset” or “sunrise” colours – but of course it neither set nor rose but just circled the sky. This was our first inkling of how difficult it will be to go to bed. Sleep is useful, but you are always missing something.

Day 2: Gullybukta & Gravneset

Gullybukta & Gravneset
Date: 17.08.2022
Position: 79°34.8’ N, 10°46.0’ E
Wind: S1
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +7.5

We woke up after our first night’s sleep to a delicious breakfast buffet made by the fantastic chefs. We then listened to Sara talk us through the AECO guidelines, the regulations we need to follow during our expedition. Thus prepared, we embarked on our first zodiac cruise in Gullybukta, Magdalenefjord. The expedition team took us on a splendid cruise to the glacier. We were lucky enough to see a Bearded Seal on the ice, along with two Harbour Seals doing their famous banana stance on rocks in the water! Over lunch the officers and captain re-positioned the ship to Gravneset. This bay was used as a harbour by 17th century whalers. The remains of blubber ovens and 130 graves on site are now highly protected to preserve them for the future. The afternoon activity was our first split landing/zodiac cruise. Due to the requirement to limit the number of passengers ashore, half started on land, and half with a zodiac cruise. We then switched on the beach. The first landing group were lucky enough to experience a very confident Arctic Fox foraging on the shore constantly harried by Arctic Terns, while the first cruisers had beautiful Harbour Seals swimming next to the zodiacs and a very lazy Walrus sleeping on the sand. As the day went on, the weather started to turn quite wet, so after we got back on board, we filled our bellies with tea and hot chocolate. At 18:45 it was time for the Captains Cocktail Party to celebrate the beginning of our voyage. Captain Toni gave a nice speech to enthuse everyone, and we all raised our glasses, cheers! The Charlotte gave us a short recap on Bearded Seals then Bill reminded us to open our minds and engage our brains to get the most from this experience. After a four-course dinner, none could move, but we eventually waddled to the bar to chatter about the wonderful first day on Hondius, wow.

Day 3: Monacobreen & Texas Bar

Monacobreen & Texas Bar
Date: 18.08.2022
Position: 79°57.2’N 13°44.5’E
Wind: S4
Weather: Partly Cloudy
Air Temperature: +9

We awoke in Liefdefjord to a morning of glorious sunshine. Light sparked on ice floating on the calm sea and not much wind. Priority was breakfast, then as the conditions were ideal, the first item on the day’s programme was a Zodiac cruise along the dramatic fractured front of Monacobreen Glacier. Any doubts about the effects of global warming were dispelled by the almost continuous crash and roar as huge sections of the glacier front detached and plunged into the sea breaking up into hundreds of pieces and generating large waves. This was a dynamic dramatic illustration of the enormous forces of nature. After this successful morning Zodiac cruise, Hondius motored back up Liefdefjord in ideal weather conditions. We landed on the steep shingle in front of a picturesque, drift wood constructed, historic hut named ‘Texas Bar’. This was one of several built in the Woodfjord area by the famous Norwegian trapper Hilmar Nois in the late 1920’s. The most famous of which is the hut at Grahuken associated with Christiana Ritter and the book “A woman in the polar night”. Several hike options were offered including a pulse rate inducing long hike, 3 medium hikes and the option to remain on the shoreline taking photographs and soaking up the stunning scenery. These hikes turned out to be welcome leg stretching educational and physical exercises exploring the permafrost damaged undulating terrain. A mixture of boulders, gravel and dried mud provided challenging exercise. Each group, protected by armed Expedition guides, walked across the landscape onto the vast expanse of a flood plain left by the retreating glacier. Enormous terminal moraines dominated the area in front of the retreating, diminishing glacier. For many it was an enlightening introduction to Arctic geological processes as we observed first-hand the awesome effects of glaciation. Huge piles of stones and gravel piled high along the courses of dried-up streams bore witness to the enormous amount of water that must flow in this area during snow melt. The different walking groups all returned to the area of the ‘Texas Bar’ hut and a number of hardy souls dived, waded, or slowly walked into the sea for a ‘Polar Plunge’. There was shivering from the plungers, and laughter and cries of encouragement from the spectators. As the weather was quite pleasant in the evening, it was decided to hold a barbeque on deck. Lots of food, drink and loud music resulted in energetic dancing until late. Everyone retired exhausted after another superb Oceanwide day.

Day 4: Faksevagen & Akefjellet

Faksevagen & Akefjellet
Date: 19.08.2022
Position: 79°39.7’N 18°23.7’E
Wind: S6
Weather: Partly Cloudy
Air Temperature: +8

Our day started earlier than usual today with an unexpected wake-up call at 6:30am which announced that a polar bear had already been spotted at Faksevagen, our intended landing site for this morning! Many of us ventured out to catch a glimpse of these majestic creatures. Within a short while, the expedition team had launched the zodiacs, and we all went for a cruise to get a closer look. A mother with two cubs could be seen ambling around the shoreline, and a larger bear was also moving around the site. It was a bit challenging to take photographs, as the wind and the swell made the ride a little bumpy. Nevertheless, we felt very privileged to enjoy this magical sight. After the excitement of the morning, we were happy to get on board and enjoy a leisurely breakfast. Later in the morning, Sara explained how polar bears have evolve to thrive in this challenging environment. She shared some of her own experiences and shows photographs of polar bears taken over the years she has spent in the Arctic. After lunch, we arrived in Alkefjellet, a enchanted bird cliff and nesting place of 60,000 pairs of Brunnich’s Guillemots. The first zodiacs to embark guests for this cruise found the conditions a little “sporty”, but with patience and persistence, we were able to embark all guests to enjoy this incredible place. What a treat was waiting for us at the cliffs! Several Arctic Foxes could be seen roaming around the base of the cliffs, looking for food to last them through the harsh winter season. We were also lucky enough to witness some Brunnich’s Guillemot chick “jumpers” leaping from the nest into the waters below. They are quickly followed by their fathers as the female birds have already left for the season. The males take care of the chicks over the coming months while they swim, and then fledge, during their long migration to the south. At recap, Sara told us about the plans for tomorrow, then Laura talked about the geology of Alkefjellet, and Helene supplied with a brief overview of the auk family of birds, which include the Brunnich’s Guillemots which we saw today, as well as the Puffin and the Little Auk. During recap, and all through dinner, whales could be seen blowing in the distance. After dinner Sasha invited everyone to the lecture hall for popcorn and an evening of stories about his time as the guardian of Pyramiden, a ghost town here in Svalbard. Finally, as the sun did not set on another day of our adventures around Svalbard, we headed to bed as the Hondius set a course to the North.

Day 5: At Sea enroute Furthest North

At Sea enroute Furthest North
Date: 20.08.2022
Position: 82°11.6’N 15°37.4’E
Wind: NW3
Weather: Partly Cloudy
Air Temperature: -1

Today we arose from our warm beds in anticipation of reaching the sea ice and finally, after breakfast at 0915, we saw the first evidence of the ice edge. We added layers to protect ourselves from the cold, and outside we went to see the beautiful pack ice. There was a wonderful aura on the ship as we first approached the ice edge. We spent a few precious hours in and out of the ice as Szymon gave his lecture on sea ice, followed by John with Arctic history on the Quest for the North Pole. We got to 82°27.6’ N, the furthest north that any Oceanwide vessel as ever been! As we started leaving the ice, Szymon spotted two blows on the ice edge. What could it be? As we approached, Sara confirmed two Bowhead Whales!! Wow, a first for many of us. This species is very rare. It is most often spotted near the ice edge feeding. We kept a 200-metre distance and watched as they came to the surface to breathe, then dived back down beneath the surface to feed. The expedition team were all extremely excited by this sighting! Georgina spoke about photography during her lecture, which was very helpful for all of us wanting to improve our skills. The fantastic Hotel Team provided us with hot chocolate and rum as we ventured back into the pack ice for one last time. Northern Fulmars circled the vessel as we watched the large pieces of ice crunching past our steel hull, the blue of the ice was captivating, we all felt in awe of this magical experience. Charlotte then gave us a talk on Cetaceans of the Arctic, so our brains are now full to the brim with knowledge of this Arctic region.

Day 6: Seven Islands

Seven Islands
Date: 21.08.2022
Position: 80°32.9’N 19°36.5’E
Wind: W5
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +7.9

Everyone awoke and immediately were apprehensive as the weather and sea-state appeared unsuitable for our intended plan, a landing and cruise at Parroya. As Hondius agitated in the early morning swell and as quite substantial waves swept along the sides of the ship, our Sara and the Expedition Team were given Health and Safety food for thought! After some deliberation, it was decided to launch a staff manned Zodiac to check out the marginal conditions. Just how marginal became obvious as staff boarded the pitching craft at the shell doors and lurched over the tops of successive large rollers as they moved towards the shore. It was clear, and everyone understood why operations were cancelled. Fortunately, the ocean swell moderated as Hondius approached Phippsoya after lunch. Passengers were split into two groups and Zodiacs launched. The first boats motored towards the dramatic sweeping arc of the shore curving between two massive island outcrops. This was a tombola beach created by years of violent wave action piling up the huge boulders and grading the smaller stones. An isolated old driftwood cabin formed an interesting feature on the shoreline. As the Zodiacs cruised slowly 50 metres off the beach a group of walruses were spotted just ahead. They bobbed and dived in an excited energetic group and provided a splashy focus for the eager photographers. Such fun. The boats proceeded round the headland into the main channel between the islands and immediately experienced a lumpy, at times wet, wave action. We searched the boulder strewn steep hillside for the polar bear that had been seen from the Bridge. Eyes scanned the confusing mass of boulders. We were ‘Looking’ but not yet ‘Seeing’…. where was the bear? At last, it was spotted sprawled amongst the rocks almost completely camouflaged in tone and colour. Nearly completely motionless apart from an occasional lazy raising of the head to take in the Zodiac and passenger scene. Two boats were lucky and saw a bearded seal passing between them and the shore. An exhilarating ride back to Hondius, downwind surfing across the rather large waves, was another highlight of the afternoon. This was judged to be a great cruise after the disappointment of the morning. Recap included essential disembarkation information – please not yet! Then Sara prepared us for tomorrow before we went to dinner to continue our attempt to look like a walrus. The Oceanwide induced excitement continues.

Day 7: Smeerenburg & Virgohamna

Smeerenburg & Virgohamna
Date: 22.08.2022
Position: 79°52.4’N 11°05.5’E
Wind: N3
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: +9

We woke to a bright blue sky and sunshine, a bit windy but with an outstanding view. We were ready to get off the ship to enjoy the beautiful weather. While we were having breakfast, the expedition team was already getting splashed by the waves in the zodiacs. The morning activity was a split landing and zodiac cruise. The cruise was to Virgohamna to view the remains of 2 attempts to fly to the North Pole. In 1897 Salomon August Andrée and 2 companions were lost when their hydrogen balloon disappeared not to be found until 1930. In the early 1900’s the American, Walter Wellman, made 3 launches in his airship. All failed soon after takeoff. Wellman gave up, but at least he lived. Along the way we watched Harbour Seals sunning on the rocks, and swimming, and were closely watched ourselves by hovering Arctic Terns making sure we were not threats to their nests. The landing was itself split into two activities. We walked to the ruins of Smeerenburg, which means Blubber Town. In 1630 around 200 persons from seven Dutch whaling companies were living on this little piece of land to work in this lucrative, but oh so dangerous, industry. We saw the leftovers of blubber ovens and whale bones on the beach. On the other side of the landing, we spent time admiring walruses hauled out, then playing and hunting in the water. These giant beasts were surprisingly active for such a big mammal that usually likes to sleep on the beach. We would have spent the whole morning there, but the Expedition Team made us go back for lunch. A group of walruses were so sorry to see us go that they followed the last zodiac a little way. After lunch, many of us posed with many of the staff for a group photo. The afternoon included some time for serious thought and reflection on the changes in the Arctic, and our part to play, with a panel discussion on Climate Change and Global Warming. The evening began when Captain Toni invited us to toast the success of this expedition in the Captain’s Cocktail Party. The feature presentation was the delightful voyage slideshow created for us by Georgina. The after-dinner show featured a large pod of Fin Whales and White Beaked Dolphins jumping very close to the bow.

Day 8: Longyearbyen

Longyearbyen
Date: 23.08.2022
Position: 78°13.8’N 15°36.1’E
Wind: N1
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +5

Some of us had a head start, but only 7 days ago we all came together. We met, introduced ourselves, learned together, shared awesome experiences, and then shared the stories and pictures of those experiences. Quickly we were friends. We will always be friends, even if we soon will be distant friends. So soon we are parting. How will we get our other friends back home to understand what it was like to be on this expedition? We can tell them about the pack ice, we can tell them about the walruses in the water, we can tell them about 24-hour days, we can tell them cruising the glacier, and the hikes, and the seals on the ice, and the bears on the beach – but they can never really know what we know. Our smiles may help them understand, but only our Hondius friends can really know what we know – that this was a beautiful, wonderful, magical adventure. So, we all wished each other farewell, knowing that we may be moving on to the next chapter of our lives, but that this chapter will never be forgotten. 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: 1077.4 nm Northernmost position: 82°27.6’ N On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Toni Salo, Expedition Leader Sara Jenner, Hotel Manager Michael Frauendorfer and all the crew and staff of M/V Hondius, it has been a pleasure travelling with you.

Details

Tripcode: HDS11X22
Dates: 16 Aug - 23 Aug, 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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