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OTL05-22, trip log, North Spitsbergen - Basecamp - Summer Solstice, Free kayaking, hiking, photo workshop & Cleaning the Shores

by Oceanwide Expeditions

Logbook

Day 1: Embarkation, Longyearbyen

Embarkation, Longyearbyen
Date: 20.06.2022
Position: 78°14.1‘N, 015°37.8‘E
Wind: SE5
Weather: cloudy
Air Temperature: +4

After a long-awaited departure (a few years for some of us) we finally land in Longyearbyen, the largest settlement in the Arctic Archipelago of Svalbard. The pull of the Arctic; its’ varied landscapes, history, the fascination of ice, flora and fauna plagued by a harsh climate, the anticipation of encountering wildlife and birds only seen in the Arctic draws visitors from all corners of our planet. Our ship for the next 8 days, the M/V Ortelius, brings us together to explore the pristine environment of the high Arctic. The Ortelius lays at anchor in the middle of the bay, so our voyage starts off already in expedition mode. The Expedition Team is waiting for us at the jetty and we get a first taste of wet and cold Arctic weather during our first zodiac ride to the ship in choppy conditions. The welcoming Hotel Team is waiting for us however and we soon settle in to our comfortable and warm cabins. When everyone is onboard and we have had the chance to get a warm drink and meet some of our fellow passengers, we gather in the lecture room for the mandatory safety briefings quickly followed by the safety drill. At 18.30 we come together for an introduction of the Expedition Team, and a glass of champagne and welcome toast with our Captain Mika Appel. The energy is high and the excitement for the upcoming voyage is palpable. After a delicious first dinner and some last moment provisioning of the ship, Ortelius finally leaves the port and takes us away from civilisation. Most onboard, except for some night owls, are ready for a good nights’ rest after all travel and first impressions. While our sturdy vessel makes her way out of sheltered waters to start the journey North, we have no other choice but to acquaint our bodies with the movement of the waves. Not everyone will sleep calmly, but this will soon be forgotten when we arrive at our first destination the following morning.

Day 2: Camp Zoe, Fanciullipynten - Lilliehöökbreen

Camp Zoe, Fanciullipynten - Lilliehöökbreen
Date: 21.06.2022
Position: 79°08.3’N, 011°41.08’E
Wind: ESE 5
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +13

We awake to a very windy morning, with low clouds hanging over the mountains. As we enter the magnificent Krossfjord the mandatory AECO and Zodiac briefings take place. The landscape of Krossfjord is dominated by middle Proterozoic metamorphic rocks which date to over one billion years old. Although our first landing this afternoon is scheduled in this area, we have to reassess in true expedition style, as very strong wind gusts prevent us from lowering the zodiacs and disembark the ship. From the ship we enjoy a beautiful view on Tinayrebreen and after lunch, Juan, our photography guide gives an introductory lecture on photography filled with tips and tricks. Soon after, the first groups leave the ship in zodiacs and head for our new, more sheltered landing site. Those wanting a more strenuous hike head straight up to the ridge and follow it around. Here they encounter Reindeer with calves, and lots of flowers as it is the best time of the year to find purple saxifrage and many more. The second group for a less strenuous hike follows closely behind and has some more time to take in the scenery and appreciate the more intimate details of the flora and the many mosses and lichens. The third group takes a stroll along the scenic shoreline adjacent to the hut and dip into the rugged terrain at the upper part of the coastline with views of Krossfjord and the steep mountains in the background. After dinner we have a scenic ship cruise of Lilliehöökfjorden and the spectacular Lilliehöökbreen, the glacier at the end of the fjord. This large glacier is a beautiful sight, with its’ 11km wide semi-circular glacier front (5.5km in a straight line across the fjord). It is estimated that over 40% of the total ice volume of the glacier has been lost within a century, which means the water in which we sail is uncharted. After this dramatic and scenic highlight, we turn around, head out of Krossfjord and continue our voyage North.

Day 3: Virgohamna & Smeerenburg - Indre Norskoya

Virgohamna & Smeerenburg - Indre Norskoya
Date: 22.06.2022
Position: 79°43.8‘N, 010°51.3‘E
Wind: N 1
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: +9.8

This morning as we are having breakfast, we enter into Virgohamna. Low lying clouds reside above the bay giving it an eery, quiet feel. The expedition team are in the bridge trying to locate the Walrus we hope to see later this morning. Another ship is anchored in the Bay, so we call them on the radio to ask what their intentions are. They confirm they will be departing at 11 am and the Walrus are there. Fantastic! We disembark everyone into the zodiacs at 0930, eager to not only see Walruses, but also the local population of Harbour Seals. Harbour Seals are typically not seen this far North, but the West coast of Spitsbergen is home to a separate population of the species. A rare opportunity therefore to see this seal species away from its’ usual environment. The water is beautiful and glassy as we motor over to the colony of seals. They are lying on rocks in the water, a behaviour mainly seen in this species. Seal pups play in the water and near the zodiacs. We encounter a Walrus in the water feeding on clams in the sandy bottom, occasionally surfacing for air and then going back down. We spend the next two hours following the coast observing Arctic Terns, Harbour Seals and the rarely seen Great Northern Diver! The dramatic landscape echoes in the background with great mountains plummeting up from the sea and glaciers oozing out from between the mountains. We manage to land at Smeerenburg, also known as the most famous whaling station in Spitsbergen. 200 men worked at this station up until the late 17th Century. There were 250 whaling ships operating in Spitsbergen 1630s which processed 25-750 whales per year. As we walk along the beach we can see 10 male Walruses all huddled together, while 4-5 are in the water feeding in the shallows. At 1250 it is time to head back to the vessel for lunch. What a great morning! The kayakers enjoy an excellent paddle around the coastline and into the bay at Virgohamna. We see the remnants of the 17th century Dutch whaling station when the bay was called Houker Bay, and the remnants of the old balloon hanger. We are greeted by curious birds as we make our way around the bay to the Harbour seal colony. The seals and pups are happy to see us and even come over for a closer look. With the glassy water and spectacular scenery, we couldn’t have asked for much more. Our second destination is Indre Norskoya at which we arrive at 1600. Dressed up to the eyeballs in warm gear the expedition staff is kitted up with their rifles and prepare the zodiacs for the passengers. We drive to the Northern side of Indre Norskoya in anticipation of seeing wildlife. A report of a polar bear sighting has reached us and we search for a carcass that has been seen on the shore. We find the carcass, but no bears are near. Until, low and behold, Babara our expedition guide calls over the radio ‘I can see two, potentially three bears above on the snow field!!’ Everyone quickly grabs their binoculars and sights a mother with two cubs sleeping 400 metres on the hill above us. The mother pops her head up occasionally and sniffs the air to check for other bears in the area. We all watch quietly in our zodiacs as the cubs stand up and start nursing. It is a beautiful and intimate sight to watch the female being so gentle with them. It’s a rare and wonderful moment to watch a polar bear family totally in their element. With big smiles we leave the Polar Bear family and head back to the ship only to see 3 puffins on our cruise back, wow can it get any better! Everyone fills their bellies with hot, hearty food and the glasses are topped up as the evening commenced as we sit at anchor. Now onto the sea ice we go!

Day 4: In the pack ice

In the pack ice
Date: 23.06.2022
Position: 74°40.8’N, 007°30.6’E
Wind: NE 6
Weather: clear
Air Temperature: +4.9

Today our expedition team leader decides to take us into the sea ice in search of polar bears. The initial plan was to sail north in the area of the seven islands but the wind and the rough seas would not be very favorable there, and the ice seems to have melted considerably, which makes the ice edge much further away than expected. So instead we sail to the West of Spitsbergen where the ice edge is closer and in the lee of the archipelago, which should make it easier to navigate through the ice. After a delicious breakfast we all move to the outer decks and the bridge to scan the ice for traces of seals, ivory gulls and of course the king of the Arctic. The landscape is breathtaking but the amount of broken ice piled up on the ice floes makes it hard to find polar bears. The captain and his crew are doing a great job navigating the ice and Ortelius is just made for this kind of navigation. Our expedition team leader Rinie is on the upper deck all day scanning for bears and his concentration level is impressive. He relentlessly searches the ice floes for polar bears, and seems oblivious to the cold and the movements of the ship. Our guests join him in this search with a lot of enthusiasm, even though we have already seen bears yesterday. During the morning we enjoy a lecture by Barbara on sea ice ecology, where she explains to us the different types of ice we encounter, how it is formed and how it plays a significant role in this ecosystem. It is difficult to make a choice between joining her in the lecture room and staying outside on the outer decks with the beautiful landscape that is offered to us. In the afternoon Rinie gives us a fantastic lecture about polar bears. We are all mesmerized by the information he provides, always linked to some personal experience he has had during his decades spent in the Arctic observing polar bears. We continue our journey through the sea ice throughout the day, but we do not find a polar bear. There are very few seals around, which maybe explains why there are no bears. Nevertheless, just witnessing this incredible icescape is so beautiful that nobody really regrets not seeing a bear. At the end of the day the captain navigates us out of the sea ice into a wavy sea and we make our way back towards Spitsbergen for tomorrow’s activities.

Day 5: Woodfjorden & Liefdefjorden

Woodfjorden & Liefdefjorden
Date: 24.06.2022
Position: 74°36.9’ N, 014°10.8’ E
Wind: NNW 2
Weather: sunny
Air Temperature: +14

It is a beautiful morning when Ortelius is entering the Woodfjorden, Andrée Land. This fjord is cutting about 65 kilometres into the north coast and has two side branches on the west side and two minor bays on the east side. The name Woodfjorden is referring to the large amounts of driftwood that cover some beaches. Whilst eating breakfast, we repositioned to Jakobsenbukta. Here we had three different hikes on offer; short, medium and long. No matter which adventure you picked, you got to enjoy the beautiful landscape, the view over the fjord and flowers like mountain avens, purple saxifrage, moss campion, mountain sorrels and arctic bell-heather. We even found a blooming Svalbard poppy, the national flower of Svalbard! Several flocks of pink-footed geese were flying over our heads. For the kayakers the day started off very peacefully. The morning at Jakobsenbukta is calm and slightly overcast, which added to the quiet beautiful surroundings. This bay was where we launched our kayaks and proceeded around its shores. There we saw a large amount of common eider and some king eider as we paddled the red sediment laden waters. Halfway around the bay we were able to paddle up into the calm shallow river that was running from the glacier and navigate its many winding trails through the ice and gravel. Back on board, the crew again had an amazing lunch ready for us to enjoy before we arrived in the Liefdefjorden, Haakon VII Land. In the „Fjord of love“ we had the choice between a zodiac cruise in front of the magnificent Monacobreen or a hike at Idabukta. The Monacobreen, named after prince Albert I of Monaco, is a more than 4,5 km long glacier. The deck and expedition team launched all of the zodiacs to go on a cruise in the fantastic sunny weather, calm waters and peaceful surroundings. We discovered many kittiwakes and arctic terns feeding in front of the glacier and some of us even saw a nice fat bearded seal on ice. A small but keen hiking group set foot on land at Idabukta in front of the Idabreen. Just next to the landing site we were able to observe a male and female rock ptarmigan, not shy at all, feeding on leaves of mountain avens. While walking on the moraine we discovered an interesting stone. The frost had broken it into two very regular shaped parts. Up on our gorgeous view point we enjoyed three glaciers including the large Monacobreen and admired the small flowers of purple saxifrage, polar willow, mountain avens. The kayakers in the afternoon disembarked at Idabukta, the snow-covered mountains rising in front of us as we paddled through its cold waters. We followed the shoreline interspersed with glacial ice that had worked their way into the shallows and become trapped by the falling tide. The two glaciers on the other side of the bay were a spectacular sight and held our attention until we reached the corner of the bay. As we entered the bay the sight of Idabreen was there in front of us. This beautiful glacier glistened in the sun and its sheer size and scale was something to behold. Back on board, a nice surprise was waiting for us! Carlos and his team were waiting us with a great Arctic Barbecue on the top deck, it turned into a big Arctic dancing PARTY!

Day 6: Ny London - Blomstrandhalvoya

Ny London - Blomstrandhalvoya
Date: 25.06.2022
Position: 78°57.4’ N, 012°02.2’ E
Wind: NW1
Weather: sunny
Air Temperature: +17

This morning, we were greeted with glorious blue skies as we began the day with our landing at Ny London. The hikers headed up the hill, to be rewarded with glorious views of the glacier over the ridge. The medium group enjoyed a leisurely walk around the plateau, exploring the remains of the mining operation which was begun by Mansfield in 1905, but abandoned shortly afterwards, in 1910. We also enjoyed the wildlife, such as a solitary reindeer, an arctic fox, as well as bird species including a long-tailed skua . The leisurely group took a zodiac cruise around the bay. Beautiful blue skies with the sun glistening on the surface of the calm waters was also a fantastic way to spend the morning for the kayakers. We kayaked out to Blomstrandhalvoya just beyond the old mine and continued east weaving between intricate natural sculptures of glacial ice. As we made our way around the island, we had time to view the splendid scenery, the mountains and the distant glaciers. We were lucky enough to see several bird species including a sighting of the red throated diver. The shoreline provided us with a chance to practice our kayaking skills as we navigated rock arches and pillars. As we sailed towards our afternoon destination, we were lucky enough to encounter a group of three blue whales. These magnificent animals had come up to Spitsbergen to feed, and they were feasting on plankton while we watched in awe from the ship. Hearing the exhalations of those blue whales as they come up to the surface to breathe is an unforgettable experience. We even got to witness one of the whales showing the tail fluke as it dived, which is a very rare event for this species. Some brave souls took part in the polar plunge in the afternoon, while the remaining passengers joined the fun by cheering them on from the upper decks. We had all styles: dives, leaps and somersaults; bikinis, a wetsuit and even a skinny dipper! A big cheer and a warm towel welcomed the polar plungers back on board.

Day 7: Colesbukta

Colesbukta
Date: 26.06.2022
Position: 78°08.4’ N, 014°32.9’ E
Wind: SSW2
Weather: cloudy
Air Temperature: +10

The morning started out lazy. Our expedition leader Rinie woke us up only at 7:45. Ortelius was sailing along the Western coast of Prince Karl Foreland. The weather was a little overcast, but very still. Some of us were drinking their morning coffee standing on the outer deck and on the bow. After yesterday’s fantastic observation of Blue whales in Kingsfjord we, of course, were hoping to spot some more of these giants of the sea, but mother nature decided to conceal them for someone else. Nevertheless, the morning was blissful. At 10 AM our expedition guide Laura gave us a lecture called “New Perspectives on Sustainability” where she touched upon many problems and challenges humanity is facing these times. It was very thought provoking. Her lecture was followed by another interesting one. Hella, our kayak guide gave a talk about whales with more detailed information on Blue whales as she has been working with these creatures for many years. Ortelius entered Isfjord and headed to the place of our afternoon activity – abandoned Russian coal mining village Coalsbay, located at the coastline of Colesbukta. After 2 PM we started the landing procedure. When everybody was ashore we divided into 3 groups and started our hikes. The long and the medium hikers headed to the valley inhabited by hundreds of Svalbard reindeers. Though walking in the tundra was not easy and pretty energy consuming, the hikers managed to make quite a big loop and even reach the coast of a freshwater lake. The way back to the ship was beautiful, but exhausting. We could see the abandoned settlement at Colesbukta as we approached with our kayaks. As we paddled past the dilapidated piers, now only inhabited by the birds, we could see a pair of Glacous gulls on a nest, tending two chicks. We continued so as not to disturb them and passed barnacle geese and eiders, until we reached the delta where the glacial water meets the bay. Here we played in the channels until we could go no further so we returned to the bay and continued around its shores. Our group was joined by an inquisitive harbour seal who was just as interested in us as we were in them. The next port of call was another glacial stream which we navigated the turbulent waters of the entrance to the calm waters beyond. An incredible 2 hour paddle with an abundance of wildlife and a good 3.5km journey around the bay was an excellent way to spend our final afternoon. When back onboard we had a farewell glass of champagne with our captain. Juan, our expedition guide and photographer showed us the result of his work during the voyage – a very beautiful slideshow that featured the highlights of our wonderful cruise. During the dinner Carlos, our hotel manager, introduced us all his colleagues from the galley, restaurant and also all the members of the housekeeping team. They all deserve applause and respect. The last evening onboard Ortelius. Can’t believe that tomorrow we have to go home.

Day 8: Disembarkation Longyearbyen

Disembarkation Longyearbyen
Date: 27.06.2022
Position: 78°13.8‘N, 015°36.2‘E
Wind: NW1
Weather: partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +9

Unfortunately, every trip comes to an end. Disembarkation starts early, for some at midnight, as some fellow travellers are booked on the 2:30 a.m. flight. The rest of us leave in the morning. The Ortelius is docked at the pier. The crew takes care of our luggage, so all that rests is our goodbyes to our newly made friends, fellow travellers and all the welcoming faces of the Ortelius we have come to know so well. Some of us may have some days left in Svalbard or mainland Norway, others may have to get back to work when coming back home. Regardless, we all take home many great memories, thousands of photographs and new friends made. The Arctic is an incredible and unique part of our planet and we are grateful to have had the opportunity to observe and soak up this pristine and fragile environment! Thank you all for joining us on this remarkable adventure, for your great company, good humour and enthusiasm. We hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be! Total distance sailed: 789 Nautical Miles On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Mika Appel, Expedition Leader Rinie van Meurs, Hotel Manager Carlos Fernandez Gomora and all the crew and staff, it has been a pleasure travelling with you!

Details

Tripcode: OTL05-22
Dates: 20 Jun - 27 Jun, 2022
Duration: 7 nights
Ship: m/v Ortelius
Embark: Longyearbyen
Disembark: Longyearbyen

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