HDS12-22, trip log, North Spitsbergen - Farthest North

by Oceanwide Expeditions

Logbook

Day 1: Longyearbyen

Longyearbyen
Date: 23.08.2022
Position: 78°14.5’ N, 11°58.8’ E
Wind: SW4
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: +8.5

Our Arctic adventure began under sunny blue skies, as 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 would not miss any sightings of wildlife, and chatting to old and new friends.

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 for the drill, 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 opportunity 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 Gaurav 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 eventually 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 – as Expedition Leader Sara reminded us “sleeping is cheating!”

Day 2: Lillihookbreen and 14th July Glacier

Lillihookbreen and 14th July Glacier
Date: 24.08.2022
Position: 79°19.6’ N, 11°38.8’ E
Wind: S4
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +4

We started the day with an atmospheric mist hanging over over Lillihookbreen. The captain and officers took the ship as close to the glacier as possible, however some of the waters are unchartered so they didn’t want to push it too far. The glacier was beautiful and the 6km wide cliff edge looked small compared to its true magnificent size. After a delicious lunch to warm ourselves up we all prepared for an afternoon at 14th July glacier. Fjortende Julibukta pays homeage to the French National Day. The weather was slightly damp, so we wrapped ourselves up to the eyeballs to prepare for the wet weather. The Expedition Team made a perimeter for us all to walk freely between the guides. We walked to the glacier and saw some beautiful calvings and then walked to the hanging gardens to see breeding Kittiwakes and Puffins. On the slopes were two Arctic Foxes running around and Reindeer feeding on the tundra. After the landing, we were picked up in a zodiac to do a 40 minute cruise to the glacier, where we were surrounded by brash ice and icebergs. It felt surreal. Even with the cold wind, we loved this afternoon as it felt like a true Arctic experience! After we returned onboard, the Captain’s cocktail evening followed with an inspiring speech from the Captain for a safe and adventurous voyage in Svalbard!

Day 3: Monacobreen & Texas Bar

Monacobreen & Texas Bar
Date: 25.08.2022
Position: 79°36.5’N 12°43.5’E
Wind: NW2
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: +7.5

This morning we woke up in magnificent Liefdefjorden. Our morning destination was Texas Bar where we set out for various hikes. Long hikers were dropped first and enjoyed a good leg stretch and elevation, whereas others choose medium or shorter walks. One thing all walks enjoyed was beautiful sunshine combined with amazing vistas across the fjord and towards Monacobreen, our destination for the afternoon. We also took a look at the infamous Texas Bar, which is an old trapper’s hut, now owned by the Sysselmesteren, showcasing a rather nice spirit selection. This was one of several huts 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”. Before we returned to our ship, a few adventurous of our group dared to take a plunge into the icy Arctic Ocean. For the afternoon, we repositioned a bit further into the fjord towards the magnificent Monacobreen. Once we were all comfortably aboard the zodiacs, we headed towards the ice. We enjoyed cruising amongst icebergs and feeling an arctic breeze blowing from the glaciers. Some of us spotted a bearded seal and an ivory gull, true inhabitants of the Arctic. We got treated to an incredible calving and witnessed how a massive iceberg was born. Immediately, thousands of kittiwakes soared towards the calving site in search of food. Reluctantly, our drivers brought us back to the ship although we would have loved to stay longer as conditions were just so fabulous. After our expedition leader Sara updated us on tomorrow’s plans and the team had shared some of their comprehensive knowledge during recap, hotel manager Michael presented today’s surprise dinner: a barbecue on the back deck. The team couldn’t have chosen a better location than this landscape surrounded by glaciers. Thanks to our fabulous kitchen team, we enjoyed way too much delicious food. Soon, many of us gathered on the dancefloor to dance the night away – what a privilege to enjoy such an amazing day up in the high Arctic!

Day 4: Faksevagen & Alkefjellet

Faksevagen & Alkefjellet
Date: 26.08.2022
Position: 79°36.7’N 017°50.6’E
Wind: NNW7
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: 0

At 7am we awoke to the news for which we all were longing: a polar bear had been sighted! Or in fact, two polar bears: a mom and first-year cub. From the ship it was a far sighting, requiring the telescope or at least a good pair of binoculars. As the bears were sleeping just behind a small ridge, jumping into the Zodiacs right away made no sense. So, breakfast first and then, during Sara’s polar bear lecture, pray the cub would get bored just lying around and stir the mum into some activity. Which it fortunately did, and even better, the bears decided on a stroll towards the beach, the reason being the remains of a walrus. Now it was time for a Zodiac cruise, and what sights we got! We approached the bears to some 150m, which did not disturb them at all, giving us great photo opportunities. The weather played along nicely too, with lots of sunshine. How awesome an observation this was, was also evident from everyone in the Zodiacs be quiet as a mouse, fantastic job all. Lunch was splendid as always and after a short rest it was time for part two of the day: Alkefjellet. Although the wind had picked up a bit, we all really wanted to Zodiac cruise past these magnificent bird cliffs. The dolorite cliffs of Alkefjellet dramatically rise up 150m straight from the sea and are literally packed with seabirds, mainly Brünnich’s Guillemots and Kittiwakes. The towering cliffs alone warrant a visit but packed with birds they are really a must-see in any trip to Svalbard. And as if that was not good enough yet, we spotted three Artic foxes foraging in the lower reaches of the cliffs. The foxes were prowling for bird remains, and we saw one of them actually digging to store food for the winter. One of the foxes was already almost entirely in its white winter fur, while the others were mottled, with quite a bit of they brown summer fur remaining. In the meantime, the wind had picked up, making for an adventurous and rather wet (but of course safe) ride back to the Hondius. All in all, an excellent Arctic expedition day!

Day 5: Seven Islands

Seven Islands
Date: 27.08.2022
Position: 80°40.6’N 20°44.5’E
Wind: N3
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: -1

Today we woke up to the wilds of Seven Islands, the most northerly islands of Svalbard. From here it is 550 miles to the North Pole and it is often known as a place of very harsh weather. Today did not fail to meet those expectations, it was -1 C and snowing on top of the mountains that made up the Seven Islands. Each one of these islands was named after a famous explorer. After breakfast we watched as the Expedition Team scouted Parroya, the island where we would be landing. At 9am we all prepared for the zodiac with warm clothing and waterproofs, and once landing at the beach we began clearing the beach of every big and small material we could find for the Clean Up Sara project in Svalbard. The guides made a perimeter for us to stay in between so they could keep us in a small area just in case a bear came to say hello! Many Arctic Skuas were flying above and chasing Kittiwakes for their food. The beach had a surprising amount of plastic, we all got stuck in and gathered as much plastic as we could ‘to do our part’ for the environment. As this was a split landing half of us listened to Laura’s inspiring and educational talk on sustainability while the other half of us were onshore. By 1200 we were all back on Hondius and immediately went to the coffee machine to warm up from the chilly, but beautiful morning. This afternoon we were all extremely excited by the prospect of Walrus! Already some had been spotted in the water, excellent news! With 10 of us in each zodiac our wonderful guides took to see a group of Walrus which amazingly had pups in the group, a rare sight in Svalbard. We watched as they curiously watched us from the water and from the land the big brown sausages all rested and grunted among each other. Recap was followed by another delicious dinner from the chefs and shortly after a drink at the bar with the two best bar staff, John and Rolando!

Day 6: In the Pack Ice

In the Pack Ice
Date: 28.08.2022
Position: 81°48’.8 N, 015°19’.9 E
Wind: NE2
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: -1

Ice day! We reached 81° 47 early in the morning in search of an adventure through the pack ice, searching for wildlife. We were all very happily surprised to hear from our expedition leader that we already had found a Polar bear before breakfast! This made an amazing and very promising start to our day at the pack ice. Everybody gathered soon after on the outer decks, looking to our 12 o’clock position (directly in front of the ship) to find the polar bear. We slowly got closer, and the closer we got, the more we could observe that the bear was quite interested in the smells that were coming from our ship, and the bear began moving towards our ship. She came very close to our bow, sniffing around to see if there was anything interesting here. She moved over the ice with extreme ease and jumped here and there from ice floe to ice floe, giving us a great show and a chance to take stunning pictures. She kept on walking close by the port side of the ship, passing by still waters where she created an amazing reflection in the water. Surely this certainly was going to be the highlight of the day and nothing could make this day better. We carried on with the daily program, while enjoyed a late breakfast. Our first lecture of the day was given by Laura M at 11:00 am on the subject of Sea Ice. We were happy to be inside after couple of hours being out in the chilly arctic air, so she had a full house with many listening ears. After about 30 min however Sara interrupted the lecture to let us know that another polar bear had been found. Everybody rushed out to see the bear, of course. This bear was a little bit less interested in us. The bear could smell us and saw us coming closer but, it didn’t really mind our presence too much. Sleeping and resting clearly seemed more important and after finding a comfortable spot on top of an iceberg, the bear snoozed away. It is absolutely incredible to see a healthy bear in its natural habitat being so relaxed and unbothered by us that we can see it sleep whilst being in the vicinity. We kept on observing the bear for a little while but eventually left it to rest on its own. Most people went back to the observation lounge afterwards to enjoy the end of Laura’s lecture. The second lecture was given by Marcel about the exploration of the Arctic. A race whose winner was unknown for a time, after it was made clear that the American Fredrick Cook could not prove that he made it to the North pole in 1908 due to the lack of his seaman’s logbook. The British Wally Herbert however did made it to the North Pole many years later in 1969, and became the first man to set foot on the top of the world. After Marcel’s lecture, there was another announcement made - and we could hardly could believe it – but yes, another bear had been spotted! This time, it was a male bear that showed very little interest in us in the beginning and remained sleeping on his icy throne. However, after a while he stood up and made his way towards the ship. Slowly he tried to make out what we were, and raised his nose to sniff the air, no doubt smelling the delicious aromas from our kitchen vents. At a certain moment, he turned around and went back towards his throne, where he laid back down resting his body and saving his energy for future hunts. Soon after, we kept on going further south to the edge of the pack ice and left him to his slumber. Once we arrived at the very edge of the pack ice, the hotel department had a nice surprise. They organized an outside bar on the bow of the ship. Here they served hot chocolate with cream and, if you felt like a real pirate, you could get a shot of rum in there to warm you up in the cold Arctic weather. The third lecture was given by Koen, who had prepared a presentation about the Evolution of Whales. Many people were surprised to hear that whales evolved from a terrestrial animal around 50 million years ago. After a delicious dinner, we were invited to the last lecture of the day, given by Meike, about Arctic Art. This certainly made for an inspiring end to a truly memorable day.

Day 7: Smeerenburg & Virgohamna

Smeerenburg & Virgohamna
Date: 29.08.2022
Position: 79°43.6’N 11°02.1’E
Wind: calm
Weather: cloudy
Air Temperature: +1

We woke to overcast skies but mild temperatures. We were all eager to get started, 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 in their typical “banana-shaped” pose 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, and also visited the remains of graves from the whaling era. 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. While the walrus were arguably the “fragrant” stars of the show, there were many other animals to be found, including many well-camouflaged Sanderlings and Purple Sandpipers along the shoreline, while every so often a great flock of Arctic Terns took to the sky. The Arctic Terns also entertained us with their hovering flight over the sea, as they waited for the perfect opportunity to dive down to catch a fish. 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. As we enjoyed our dinner, many whales were spotted out of the windows of the dining room, causing much excitement! Fin whales and minke whales could be seen gliding through the water, as many of us rounded off this memorable dinner with strawberry milkshakes and fresh chocolate donuts.

Day 8: Longyearbyen

Longyearbyen
Date: 30.08.2022
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 walruses on a white sandy beach, 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: 1,004 nm Northernmost position: 80°52.2N 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: HDS12-22
Dates: 23 Aug - 30 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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