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OTL06-22, trip log, North Spitsbergen - Basecamp, Free kayaking, hiking, photo workshop

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Embarkation, Longyearbyen

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

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 the old Coal pier close to the airport. The Expedition Team is spread out at several locations throughout town to await those of us who accidentally end up at the wrong pier. Buses take us to the Ortelius where the welcoming hotel team is waiting for us and after a long couple of days 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 19.00 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. During dinner Ortelius leaves the port and takes us away from civilisation. It’s a beautiful, calm evening and some off us spend some time on the outer decks enjoying our departure into the wild of the high Arctic. 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 settle in for a peaceful sleep.

Day 2: Ny London - Blomstrandhalvøya

Ny London - Blomstrandhalvøya
Date: 28.06.2022
Position: 78°57.2’ N, 012°02.4’ E
Wind: NW2
Weather: sunny
Air Temperature: +14

Our first day begins with a delicious breakfast prepared by our chef. Straight after that we are handed out our rubber boots and our zodiac life-vests which we will keep with us during the entire trip. No time to waste, we jump right into the mandatory briefings on zodiac boarding, the AECO guidelines and polar bear safety, all given by the expedition team leader Rinie. Last but not least, our kayak guide Adam gives us the kayak briefing. We don’t have much time to feel slightly overwhelmed by all the information, as we head straight into lunch and are asked to be on standby for our first excursion shortly after. We are greeted with glorious blue skies as we begin the afternoon with our landing at Ny London. The hikers head up the hill, to be rewarded with glorious views of the glacier over the ridge. The medium group enjoys a walk around the plateaus, exploring the remains of the mining operation which was begun by Mansfield in 1905, but abandoned shortly afterwards, in 1910. We also see a lot of wildlife, such as reindeer with a very new calf, and several bird species including long-tailed skuas, long-tailed ducks, ruddy turnstones with chicks, gray phalaropes, red-throated divers and ringed plovers, and not to forget arctic terns, barnacle geese and a couple of pink-footed geese. The leisurely group takes a zodiac cruise around the bay and are lucky enough to spot their first polar bear! After observing it for a short while it decides to get into the water and swim across to a nearby island. When a bear gets into the water it becomes more vulnerable, so we leave it alone. How incredibly fortunate to spot a bear on the first landing! Also the kayakers have their first paddle, starting in the bay in front of the mining camp ‘London’. The old mine is an interesting start, with the contrast between the dilapidated buildings and the arctic tundra slowly retaking the scene. We head east and follow the coast playing amongst the incredible coastal rock formations and enjoying spectacular scenery. Along the way we are graced with bird life such as long tailed duck, eider, terns and even a long tailed skua flies overhead. We have a quick group photo with the beautiful Kongsbreen glacier in the background, before turning around and heading back to the ship. On the return journey we stay a little further out and paddle through glacial ice that has been drawn out by the tide. We are then met on the shoreline by a curious reindeer before heading back to the ship and a well-earned cup of tea or a drink at the bar. We listen to the recaps and tomorrows‘ program. We cannot believe how many animals we have already seen in one single excursion. After the recap we are invited by the hotel manager Carlos to join his team in the dining room for our first plated dinner, and what a treat it is. Our chef Heinz has prepared delicious dishes for all tastes. Some guests still linger at the bar after that, tasting their way through the many drinks served by our bartender Jake. What an incredible first day!

Day 3: Virgohamna & Smeerenburg - Indre Norskoya

Virgohamna & Smeerenburg - Indre Norskoya
Date: 29.06.2022
Position: 79°43.4‘N, 010°54.3‘E
Wind: SSW3
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: +11

This morning as we are having breakfast, we arrive at Virgohamna. Low lying clouds reside above the bay giving it an eery, quiet feel with winds gusts coming and going. The expedition team are in the bridge trying to locate the Walrus we hope to see later this morning and luckily they are there! Great start of the morning! We disembark everyone into the zodiacs at 0930, eager to not only see Walruses in Smeerenburg, but also the local population of Harbour Seals in Virgohamna. 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 zodiacs are divided into 2 groups, the first ones are going directly to Smeerenburg to land and approach the Walrus haul-out and the second ones approach a tiny and shallow bay to see the harbour seals which usually lay on rocks to rest and can be curious enough to approach 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. There are about 20 resting on the beach. The dramatic landscape echoes in the background with great mountains plummeting up from the sea and glaciers oozing out from between the mountains. Smeerenburg is 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. At 12 it is time to head back to the vessel for lunch. What a great morning! Our second destination is Indre Norskoya at which we arrive at 1430. 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. An early discovery gets everyone excited about 3 polar bears near a carcass that has been seen on the shore. As we approach the place, 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. Out of nowhere another polar bear appears walking on the rocky coast towards the carcass! It is a young and very white female. Everyone is super excited about the luck of this kind of encounter, but that is not all! From the same direction we spot a 5th polar bear! It is a massive male slowly walking behind the female in the direction of the carcass, and now we understand why the female with the 2 cubs are so high in the slope, she wants to avoid any kind of contact and danger with this massive male around. It’s a rare and incredible moment to watch 5 polar bears in the same location in Spitsbergen. Even most of our guides have not experienced this before! As the wind starts to pick up more and more we head back to the ship with big smiles on our faces and leave the polar bear family and the 2 individual bears behind. 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: 30.06.2022
Position: 81°20.7’ N, 021°44.5’ E
Wind: W3
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: +5

Already very early in the morning, at 4 o’clock, our ship reaches the sea ice edge. The first bits and pieces of sea ice appear, but visibility is very bad due to thick fog. So our captain decides to follow the sea ice edge in direction east until the visibility is better. During breakfast the fog begins to clear and soon our ship goes deeper into the ice. We find ourselves in a completely white world, what a magic sight! White sea ice as far as the eye can see. Only broken every now and then by open water around the many floes. We had to sail all the way up to 81º15’N, north of the Sjuøyane (Seven Islands), to reach the sea ice edge, but it was well worth it. Many of us spend a lot of time outside, enjoying this high Arctic scenery and joins the expedition team in their search for wildlife. A beautiful male king eider duck is seen early in the morning, certainly a rare sighting and great to photograph. Groups of Brunnich’s guillemots and little auks are heading out to sea and others are returning to forage among the ice floes. These birds are nesting throughout the Spitsbergen archipelago. Especially the large numbers of kittiwakes and some lesser black-backed gulls are attracting our eyes. They are following our ship, looking for young polar cods, that have been exposed by moving ice floes. Every now and then we spot some brownish-yellowish sea ice, a very good sign, as these are the famous ice algae, the primary producers in the sea ice ecosystem! Some ivory gulls are also seen, a very rare ice-associated gull with a white plumage, black legs and a yellow bill. The further north we go, the more seals we see resting on ice floes. We mainly observe bearded seals, but also a few ringed seal females with pups and even three harp seals in the water. The whole food chain is present in this very productive area, but where is our top predator? The sea and ice are scanned by binocular and the naked eye and just before lunch the expedition team finds a polar bear! We keep the bear in sight as it moves across the ice at a steady fast pace. Some bears are attracted to ships but this one shows no interest in us and it moves away towards the North. Even though we see the King of the Arctic only in the distance, it is so special to see him in his natural habitat, the sea ice! At 12:38 we reach the northernmost position of our journey: 81º30’N, woooow!!! During lunch time a big wall of fog is pressing in and we lose sight of our bear. Therefore our captain decides to move our ship slowly in direction south-west again. In the afternoon Barbara gives a lecture about the ecosystem of sea ice. She explains the formation process of the ice and talks about the life that grows inside and how it influences other ecosystems. We also learn about the arctic marine food web and the connection with the arctic terrestrial food web. Later in the afternoon Juan does a fabulous job in giving us an introduction to photography. He talks about special settings that are needed for making pictures in the Arctic and everyone has many questions for him. Prior to dinner we enjoy a recap where Hella tells us more about seals and in more detail about the bearded seals. Christophe tells the story of Ivory Gulls, who are even seen to breed on icebergs! After dinner, many choose to retire to the bar to celebrate what has been an incredible day exploring the sea ice.

Day 5: Woodfjorden & Liefdefjorden

Woodfjorden & Liefdefjorden
Date: 01.07.2022
Position: 79°39.3’ N, 014°00.9’ E
Wind: SW 6
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +11

It is a beautiful morning as Ortelius enters 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 anchor in Jakobsenbukta. Here we have three different hikes on offer; novice, intermediate and advanced (hike). Despite the windier conditions, everyone is eager to get out in the fresh, cool air and no matter which walk everyone picked, they get to enjoy the beautiful landscape. The view over the fjord is spectacular with views over the valley and into the glaciers. Many flowers were spotted, for example Mountain Avens, Purple Saxifrage, several species of Chickweed, Mountain Sorrels and Arctic Bell-heather. Towards the end of the walk we do a beach clean up to do our part for the environment, so everyone picked up any bits and pieces of plastic they manage to find washed up along the shore from fishing nets, plastic containers and pieces of rope. Back on board, the crew again has an amazing lunch ready for us to enjoy before we arrive in the Liefdefjorden, Haakon VII Land and the glacier at the end oft he fjord; Monacobreen, named after prince Albert I of Monaco. Unfortunately due to the 32 knot winds we are not able to do the scheduled zodiac cruise or the hike above the glacier. Instead we drift till 2 km’s from the glacier to enjoy the beautiful cracking sounds of the glacier and the mountains as they loom over us. Tonight is barbeque night, which is held inside due to the weather. But with happy hour and tasty food prepared by our finest chefs we enjoy a fiesta anyway! As the night continues everyone gets more and more relaxed and before we know it a party begins in the bar and with Carlos as DJ it really becomes a night to remember!

Day 6: Kongsfjord & Engelsbukta

Kongsfjord & Engelsbukta
Date: 02.07.2022
Position: 78°53.5’ N, 011°18.8’ E
Wind: S5
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +7.3

After the fun of last night, we enjoy a leisurely morning today. After breakfast, we begin with a ship’s cruise in front of the majestic Kongsbreen. Here we are rewarded with sightings of puffins and little auks. A breeding colony of kittiwakes is also located on the cliffs beside the glacier, and many hundreds of kittiwakes can be seen feasting on the nourishment offered by the ecosystems which are fed by the rich waters in front of the glacier. Before lunch, we are treated to Rinie’s lecture on polar bear biology and behaviour. This includes insights about how they breed and raise their cubs, which is especially interesting for us as we have been lucky enough to spot a mother bear with two cubs on day three of our voyage. We also hear stories of Rinie’s many encounters with bears during his 34 years of experience, which include 250 cruises in and around Spitsbergen! After a satisfying lunch, we head out of Kongsfjord and on towards our afternoon destination of Engelskbukta – the appropriately named “Angel’s Bay’”. The crossing to Engelsbukta is windy and the fog is slowly encroaching on our position. As we enter Engelsbukta however the wind drops to almost nothing and the fog bank is held back by the wind in the channel. Our hiking group heads out along the moraine to take in the whole sweep of the bay, while the other two groups follow slightly more direct routes towards the moraine lakes in front of Comfortlessbreen. Our paths join at the viewpoint above the lakes, from where we have a magnificent 360o view over the moraine landscape, and the colony of arctic terns nesting on one of the islands in the lake. The hikers and the medium group then proceed to climb the rocky hill to enjoy the view over the glacier. From there, they can also enjoy watching a colony of harbour seals which are resting on the opposite bank of the glacial river. The leisurely hiking group also enjoys seeing the harbour seals playing in the water, and a mother and pup on the shoreline. On the way back to our landing beach, we all enjoy seeing an arctic skua who is making sure we keep our distance from his breeding partner, who is sitting on the nest. One of the remarkable things about this area is the number and diversity of flower species that we encounter, including polar campion and purple braya. Also the kayakers have the opportunity to paddle along the coastline next to the glacier. As we approach the first glacial stream, we are met by playful harbour seals. As we float by enjoying their company we are met by several more. These mothers and pups are very curious and stay with us for the majority of the paddle. The turquoise water of the bay plays host to a number of bird species including king eider, long tailed skua and some very territorial arctic turns. The waterfalls that fall from the hanging glaciers are superb and the low clouds cling to the mountain tops making this a magical spot for kayaking. Before leaving the beach, a few brave souls take the opportunity for a polar plunge! Then, once we were all safely back on board, Barbara gives us a very informative recap lecture about glaciers and icebergs, including how they are formed and their importance for local and global ecosystems. After a well-earned dinner, we settle in to enjoy another evening under the midnight sun.

Day 7: At sea & Isfjorden, Colesbukta

At sea & Isfjorden, Colesbukta
Date: 03.07.2022
Position: 78°08.4’ N, 012°14.3’ E
Wind: NE2
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +7

This morning there is no landing planned, so breakfast is served half an hour later than usual. The general plan is to sail along the sea shelf to try and find whales. Last night we already tried to do the same, but unfortunately the visibility was poor. Today the skies are clear. There is no fog and also the wind is not strong, which makes it easier to scan the surface of the ocean while standing on the open deck of Ortelius. When everyone had just sat down for breakfast, we hear the announcement on the PA that a group of whales is spotted. Very soon the second announcement follows, and then the third one. Whales are everywhere, and there are many. The most amazing is not only the number, but also the variety of whales. There are Humpbacks, Minkies, Fin and Blue whales, the biggest creatures in the history of the planet. Also White-beaked dolphins and a group of Harbour seals are observed. All animals are feeding in the same area. There must be an incredible amount of food present. Everyone is standing on deck and on the bridge watching with our binoculars and taking hundreds of pictures. Nature is definitely putting on a show with this one! After a while Ortelius increases speed and needs to continue to our destination of the afternoon. After lunch we enter Isfjorden and are able to see Barentsburg, the Russian settlemen, before proceeding to Colesbukta, where the abandoned Soviet settlement Coalsbay is situated. Colesbukta has a lot of green and soft tundra. Where there is a lot of grass, there is always a lot of reindeers. We already saw reindeers during our landing in Ny London, but today we have was a chance for better and longer encounters. We disembark, get split into 3 groups and start our walk into the valley. A big herd of reindeer is seen only a few hundred meters away from the landing site. And there are more a little further away. They are not paying much attention to us, so we are able to take good pictures. The kayakers start their paddle near the abandoned settlement at Colesbukta. As we paddle past the dilapidated piers, now only inhabited by the birds, we can see a pair of Glaucous gulls on a nest, tending three chicks. We continue so as not to disturb them and pass barnacle geese and eiders. As we leave the abandoned settlement behind, we have a chance to view two reindeer who come over for a closer look before heading back inland. When we reach the delta where the glacial water meets the bay, we play in the channels until we can go no further and then we return to the bay and continue around its shores. Our group is joined by a king eider who stays with us for a while. What an incredible paddle with such an abundance of wildlife journeying around the bay. An excellent way to spend our final afternoon. The evening is opened with a farewell cocktail in the bar, the showing of Juans’ photo slideshow and followed by dinner. The last evening onboard is always a little emotional, but the night is still young and a final party in the bar is brewing.

Day 8: Disembarkation Longyearbyen

Disembarkation Longyearbyen
Date: 04.07.2022
Position: 78°14.1‘N, 015°37.6‘E
Wind: SSE4
Weather: cloudy
Air Temperature: +11

Unfortunately, every trip comes to an end. Disembarkation starts early in the morning. 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. The Ortelius lays at anchor in the middle of the bay, so we embark the zodiacs for one final time, before saying goodbye to the expedition staff at the jetty and the buses take us away. 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: 743 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!


Tripcode: OTL06-22
Dates: 27 Jun - 4 Jul, 2022
Duration: 7 nights
Ship: m/v Ortelius
Embark: Longyearbyen
Disembark: Longyearbyen

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Aboard m/v Ortelius

The ice-strengthened Ortelius is thoroughly outfitted for polar exploration and, when necessary, helicopter flights.

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