OTL10-16, trip log | Around Spitsbergen
01.08.2016 by Oceanwide Expeditions Triplog
Embarkation day in Longyearbyen, proved for many to be quite the adventure – even before our circumnavigation of Svalbard with Ortelius had begun! Heavy fog and low cloud cover prevented several planes from landing Saturday and the Captain of a SAS flight, which carried both guests and guides for our sail, would make no promises to land in Longyearbyen, before leaving Tromso. Nevertheless, while he managed a safe landing in the end, the passengers of this journey had no idea how lucky they really were.
Upon embarkation at Kulkaia where Ortelius was alongside, the crew and guests learned that a number of Norwegian airports were closed due to bad weather and that this had also caused several lost luggage cases among our guests. But not only that, a group of our German guests had wanted to spend a few days in Svalbard before embarking on their Ortelius journey, but were delayed nearly three days in getting here! In the end our missing German group arrived in good spirits just after midnight and with them came also the final bags and suitcases. Thus, anchor was heaved and Ortelius could steam out on the first leg of our Svalbard navigation.
We woke to sun light breaking through the skies as Ortelius cruised towards our first landing; the most northerly community in the world – Ny Ålesund. Formerly a mining town and today a community of research organizations from countries as diverse as Germany, South Korea and the USA focusing on polar and climate research, it is comprised of just a few buildings, research stations and approximately 200 inhabitants in summer. Only about 50 people overwinter along with countless polar bears.
On our way there we cruised through Kongs-fjorden where the three 1200 metre plus mountain peaks Dana, Svea and Nora (named after the Scandinavian countries) dominate the beautiful backdrop scenery of this fiord along with the impressive Kongsbreen glacier.
Upon landing in Ny Ålesund everyone got a chance to explore the museum, gift shop, the world’s most northerly post office, the waffel stand and the bust commemorating one of the greatest explorers of all time; Roald Amundsen. Last but not least the history hungry of us gathered around the tethering mast for Nobile’s last, fatal airship (zeppelin) polar expedition.
During our zodiac rides back to Ortelius we saw black guillemots, little auks, long-tailed skuas, arctic terns, Atlantic puffins, common eiders and Brunnichs guillemots. We also had our first marine mammal sighting! – a group of harbour seals – very appropriately near the harbour. We concluded this wonderful day with the Captain welcome speech and toast along with introductions of the expedition team.
We woke up to a windy day at Andøyane with 19 knots and a temperature of 9 degrees. We were all excited to get on the first zodiac cruise of the voyage. It was a cruise that would be done in two rounds, which and it turned out to be a beary, beary nice morning. Not only was the light amazing, making for a good start for photos, the Artic Terns were busy feeding on the water, the great skuas and the Artic skuas were flying over the moss covered islands. Ben managed to find us not one, but two polar bears hunting for food. It was a mother and her yearling cub. We all got to enjoy the bears walking along the shore line and as Jim put us all up wind the bears would walk to us. It was absolutely amazing and we got to observe these bears as close as we could. Furthermore, we got to see them in the water, diving for seaweed with their paws sticking up in the air as they went for a dive. On the way back to the ship, Michael spotted another two bears. There were a few growlers floating around too, looking shiny and blue. As we sailed away from Andøyane, Jim announced another bear, which made it the fifth spotting this morning!
After lunch, Ortelius sailed deeper into Liefdefjorden and took a right into Idabukta for our afternoon landing. Leisure, medium or long hiker – got to have a close look at the rich flora of Moss Campions, Mountain Avens, Mountain Sorrels and other arctic plants. The long hikers walked up the lateral moraine towards Idabreen where a good look out point was found to sit down and enjoy the view. The fog had looked low from the beach but the closer to the glacier front, the clearer it looked. As the leisurely group explored the very end of the moraine and took in the amazing view out towards Liefdefjorden and the icebergs in the bay. The medium hikers made it half way up to Idabreen, after having explored the tundra. We got together for the daily recap and then enjoyed a great dinner. The dessert was taken to the bar, so that we wouldn’t miss out on the beautiful landscape as we ship cruised deeper into the fjord where Monacobreen revealed itself to us. The water was calm and the bay was full of icebergs and brash ice, making for a very scenic evening. What a unique day in the Arctic!
We had sailed north overnight to arrive at Phippsoya in the Seven Islands at 0730 hours. Grey clouds with a light wind greeted us along with Atlantic Puffins, Brunnich’s Guillemots, Northern Fulmars and other seabirds. Jim briefed the international groups and we began our zodiac operation. At the sandy and Siberian beach log strewn beach, we assembled our hiking groups for a visit to the Polar Desert via the glacially rounded, granite boulders surrounding a snowmelt pond. In the corner of which, we viewed a Polar Bear skeleton subsurface. After the less then a kilometer walk past an Arctic moss wetland with territorial Arctic Skua, we stopped 200 meters short of a large group of hauled-out Walrus on the beach, past an old hunter’s cabin. All three groups were able to approach these beautiful Pinnipeds in the wilder-ness of the high arctic. We returned to the ship for a hot and delicious lunch, before departing the archipelago, for the afternoon’s sail to the pack ice.
Arriving in the wintery world of the arctic sea ice, guests were amazed at this new white, fractured environment. As the dinner was our famous on deck BBQ, we were treated to our first pack ice Polar Bear!
After a night spent floating with the pack ice we awoke to a moody morning above 81 degrees north. It was a unique experience to be adrift in the ice, silent, encompassed in fog. It allowed us to imagine what it may have been like here for the early explorers. Around midmorning, an announcement rung over the P.A system. The expedition staff had managed to find the King of the Arctic. Very quickly it was revealed that there were not one, but three polar bears roaming the pack ice around the ship. We were fortunate enough to watch a very special interaction between two of the bears. From what we could gather, a male bear was showing his express interest in the female bear.
The fog was ever present around the ship and only added to the ambience of watching these magnificent animals in their natural and preferred habitat. other bears. The forward deck of the ship was packed with eager spectators and photographers. As another wave of thick fog rolled over the Ortelius and the bears faded into mist as they turned in search of their next meal.
Feelings were running high on board as we all realized we had witnessed something very special in this frozen and fog blanketed part of the world. We spent the rest of the day pushing our way along leads in between the floes and brash ice. Harp seals splashed noisily in front of the ship before we turned south to continue our adventures and exploration in the Hinlopen Stretet.
After a whole day in the ice yesterday, we had headed south and woke up in front of Alkefjellet. We could not see the cliff from the ship but we knew we were here because of all of the birds around the ship. When the first group was ready to cruise, the fog had already lifted enough for us to see all the way in to beautiful Pyntebreen to the north. The glacier was active this morning and as both groups admired the beautiful ice, we were all lucky to see little calvings into the milky ocean water. As we cruised north at Alkefjellet we observed the Brünnich’s Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Glaucous gulls and a few northern fulmars. The water was calm and the fog had now lifted completely. As this wasn’t enough we had the honour of hanging out with two polar foxes. As all ways, Alkefjellet did it’s thing and it was spectacular.
The hotel crew spoiled us with lunch as we sailed southeast to Augustabukta. Here the plan was to land at Torellneset and go for different hikes. However, polar bears were seen from the bridge so after Jim and Cecilia had scouted the walrus haul out, we took the first group on a zodiac cruise around ”neset” to have a good look at the big animals lying almost on top of each other. As we started returning to the ship, a polar bear turned up. We got to spend time with the bear as it walked to the point and laid down next to the second group of walruses. The first group got the offer to go out on a short cruise again, so also they, could see the bear. However, meantime the bear had walked into the water and was swimming out towards Hinlopenstretet. Luckily, the Arctic was kind to us and as we were all parked up on the beach with the noses of the zodiacs, a big group of walruses swam around the corner of the point and right past us. We got to see these big creatures from first row and hear their puffing and grunting as they checked us out, just as much as we were checking them out. In between all this, the hotel crew was showing their flexibility and feed us all in between the cruises.
It was 21.30 when we finished and all met up in the bar, which was a very good indicator of how our day had been. It sounded like Alkefjellet and while enjoying one of Rolando’s good drinks we were all sharing stories, pictures and laughs.
Sailing south overnight, we arrived early at Kapp Waldburg to discover our exploration of the nesting Black-legged Kittiwake canyon was thwarted by two Polar Bears near our landing site. So, we relocated to Sundneset to do some long, medium and short walk explorations of the tundra and pond habitats. Here, as many as six of the Ice Bear were spotted on land, and caused us to consider our Plan C. As we all know, this is expedition travel mode. Yet again around 10 AM, our scout of the new landing site found another white bear near to our proposed zodiacs ashore locale.
Lunch was moved-up to noon as we ship cruised to Kapp Lee. We successfully scouted and launched zodiacs for the Kapp in the early afternoon and long hikers made it to the ridge top. Mediums walked around the cove to whale bones, Svalbard Reindeer, wildflowers, Purple Sandpiper and with the short group to view and photograph the Walrus hauled-out. Eventually four of the big male swam in the water, with one rolling 360 degrees four times for his launching technique. While the tide was ebbing out we made our sandy shore departure back to the ship for supper.
After steaming 170nm overnight, we awoke to good weather as we turned and made our final approach to Hornsund, Svalbard’s southernmost fjord. As we sailed into Hornsund, a blanket of fog greeted us and reduced visibility to almost nil. The plan for the morning was to drop zodiacs and cruise the iceberg laden Burgerbukta. As we boarded the zodiacs, the clouds cleared a blue skies revealed themselves. Our exploration down the west arm lead us past dozens of brilliant blue icebergs, each piece of ice telling a tale about its formation and melt process. At the end of the branch was Paierlbreen glacier. Millions of tons of fractured ice slowly making its way to the sea.
Once back aboard we ship cruised Brepollen and all the glaciers that spilled into bay. Hornsundtind threw back its constant blanket of cloud and revealed itself, Svalbards third highest peak. Brepollen remained bathed in sunshine so the plan was adjusted for the afternoon. We made a landing at Konglomeraten. Here we split into three groups and explored the moraines and viewpoints that looked over another amazing glacier.
With the day drawing to a close, we headed back to the Ortelius and turned back into fog, heading north up the west coast of Spitsbergen.
As we woke to sunshine and glittering seas the setting for our visit to Ingeborgfjellet could not have been better. It seemed the sky, mountains and the seas had made a pact to give us a perfect day for exploring the stony beach, the Little auk colony in the screes of the mountain side and tundra. The colours of the different elements made for wonderful views and photo-graphs, whether you were near the waters with the Purple sandpipers and Snow buntings, on the green lush vegetation with the reindeer calves suckling milk from their mothers or next to the busy Little auks on the side of the mountain. Not only was it spectacular visually, the audio back drop of the thousands and thousands of very vocal Little auks and the ‘wooouishhh’ sounds from their speedy flights out to sea as they passed right by our heads completed the wonderful experience of this landing.
In the afternoon the swell had risen, which made for some challenging getting on the zodiacs, but all made it well to Midderhuken, where it was time for a peaceful visit and a bit of independent roaming in the landscape. Perhaps a time for contemplation and remembering a circumnavigation of Svalbard with unique nature experiences.
Total distance sailed on this voyage: 1130 nautical miles / 2,034 kilometres
On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Ernesto Barría and the Officers, all Crew, Expedition Team and Hotel Team: it has been a pleasure travelling with you!