OTL11-18, trip log, Around Spitsbergen

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Embarkation, Longyearbyen

Embarkation, Longyearbyen
Date: 01.08.2018
Position: 78°14.6‘N, 015°05.20‘E
Wind: NNW 2
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: +13

We started our journey in Longyearbyen harbour, a small city named after American John Munro Longyear. John Munro was one of the first pioneer in mining industries and expedition cruises in Spitsbergen. He founded a coal mining settlement in 1906 in Adventfiord called „Longyear City”. Ortelius left the harbour with all passengers and luggage in the late afternoon. Around 5pm we were invited by Hotel department Sava and third officer - Igor to lecture room for Welcome and safety briefing onboard m/v Ortelius. After a series of presentations, we participated in the mandatory safety drill wearing the SOLAS big orange lifejackets and also seeing what the emergency lifeboats looked like inside. After the safety drill, we were invited back to the bar where we met our Captain Mikka Appel and the full Expedition Team. Ali our expedition leader presented the team and gave us plans for coming days and together with Captain Mikka we raised our glasses for a toast to the voyage. After a long day of traveling, we found our places in the Dining Room for a delicious dinner. At the end of day, we collect our lifejackets and rubber boots for the coming zodiac operations and finally we could end our joyful first day.

Day 2: Ny London & Ny Alesund

Ny London & Ny Alesund
Date: 02.08.2018
Position: 78°57.3’N, 012°02.0’E
Wind: SSE 3
Weather: cloudy
Air Temperature: +15

We woke to our first morning on Ortelius entering Kongsfjorden under blue skies and sunshine. The relatively calm waters overnight had made for a restful sleep and we were all eager to head off for our first excursion in the Svalbard archipelago. However, before going a shore we had to attend a further three briefings; zodiac safety, the do’s and don’ts of Arctic conduct and polar bear safety but it was no time at all till the zodiacs were lowered into the water to take us ashore at Ny London. Here was a chance to explore the tundra, learn a little of the history surrounding this failed marble mine from the 1911-1920 and look for wildlife. Once ashore we split up into several different groups and strolled around the mining remains, the fresh water ponds and small waterfall. A couple of Svalbard reindeer were spotted and most people saw the nesting long tailed skuas at close range, but one thing is for sure, everyone observed the brilliance of summer tundra in bloom! All too soon it was time to head back to the ship for lunch and the short transit across the fjord to Ny Alesund; the worlds northernmost year-round community. This former coal mining village is now a scientific community operating under the Norwegian Polar Institute research governance. We were given time to wander around the museum, visit the small souvenir shop, send post cards home to loved ones and of course learn a little about the history of Arctic exploration and the attempts to reach the North Pole from Ny Ålesund. Expedition guides, Ian and Jerry, led us out to the airship mast Amundsen had built for the air balloon Norge which he flew over the North Pole before finally landing further on in Alaska. It had been a cold, wet afternoon ashore, so the coffee/tea station was put to good use when we returned to the Ortelius at 5pm. We then slowly made our way down the fjord to get a better view of Kongsvegen Glacier, it was still fairly overcast and damp outside, but nonetheless the view was well worth venturing onto the outside decks for. Then came the exciting news; a female polar bear and cub had been spotted high up on the cliff, this of course created great excitement, and everyone dashed outside with cameras in hand. It was decided that the best course of action would be to have a quick dinner while the expedition team launch the zodiacs, allowing for a post dinner cruise in hopes of getting a closer look of the two resting bears. The zodiacs were lowered, and we were all on the water shortly after 8pm, we proceeded in convey over to the cliff face. The bears were happily sleeping on our arrival and appeared to be pretty uninterested in our fleet of zodiacs, packed full of anxious tourists desperate to put their cameras to use. With little action from the bears we decided to head along the cliff to where Kittiwake gulls were nesting and also to take a closer look at some of the amazing blue ice that was floating along the shoreline. We were just about to call it a night when we noticed that the bears were waking from their slumber and looking to make a move. Their action was brief, but more than enough to convince us all we made the right decision to venture out on this wet, windy Arctic evening. It was incredible to watch them clamber up the hillside, and fantastic to see both mother and cub looking so healthy. Once the bears settled down again for the night, we made our way back to the Ortelius, all feeling very content with what we had experienced on our first expedition day up north. Back on board the atmosphere was warm and jovial, fuelled by the excitement of the past hour or so. Either with a night cap or a cup of tea, off to bed we went, to recharge for the next day of exploration in the Svalbard archipelago.

Day 3: Bockfjord & Worsleyneset

Bockfjord & Worsleyneset
Date: 03.08.2018
Position: 79°37.9’N, 013°44.0’E
Wind: E 2
Weather: fog
Air Temperature: +9

The day started a little slower than normal although we had the standard wake up call. We had all slept well after our evening zodiac cruise to see the polar bear mother and cub. We arrived in Bockfjord, the Ortelius shrouded in fog as we drew closer to the intended landing site at Jotunkjeldene. This is a site where a weakness between continental plates allows the formation of a small thermal springs on the sinter terraces. Unfortunately, the fog combined with low cloud cover lead to unsafe conditions to attempt a landing at the location. We were able to see the sinter earth from the ship and at least have a different perspective on the geology of the region. Adam Jones, an award-winning photographer was onboard and kindly gave us a presentation on achieving photographs that we are happy with. The lecture was well attended and his tips and material were both interesting and useful. We then had lunch and the ship repositioned to Worsleyneset for our afternoon landing. The area has very low-lying topography and as such offered better viewing of the landscape and terrain. As the afternoon went on the weather began to improve. Once on land we saw a range of different Arctic plants displaying their late summer colours. As soon as we were on shore were split in to several different walking groups and photography focused group was also offered. We enjoyed the time with our guides to explore the tundra and shoreline of this area. Some excellent Polar Bear tracks were found well preserved in the mud as we navigated a small lagoon. It was impressive to see up close how large these animals are from the size of their paws, it looked as though there had been male and female bears as well as a cub in the area. We also saw the skeleton of a small bear as well as some far more interesting geology and patterns in the landscape choreographed by the permafrost and annual freeze and thawing of the substrate. On the small ponds a pair of Red-throated divers were spotted and the calm waters of Worsleyneset teamed with Eider duck families, the ducklings paddling along behind proud mothers. We all returned to the Ortelius where Expedition Leader Ali told us the plans for tomorrow and Sara gave a presentation on seal identification.

Day 4: Karl XII and then North to the ice

Karl XII and then North to the ice
Date: 04.08.2018
Position: 80°39.2’N, 024°56.0’E
Wind: SSE 2
Weather: foggy
Air Temperature: +5

Today ended up being a day that one wouldn’t, nor could, easily forget. It started early with the Expedition staff heading out toward the island with the intention of scouting the morning’s ventures looking for wildlife. Yet those on board with a keen eye and steady hand on the binoculars could already see that the suspicious white dots up the rocky hat of the island were not just snow patches. Soon all zodiacs were launched and we disembarked the good ship Ortelius and headed straight into the clear skies towards the green mystical mountain kingdom of Polar bears and wily walrus. In the opening stages, we watched in awe, excitement, and deep soulful pleasure as the resident Polar Bears of the island walked about, gave us many a look back themselves, and strutted their stuff. There was a number of personalities expressed amongst the bears, ranging from a resting lazy fellow, a beautiful lady who turned cannibal, the majestic showman on the rocks, and the fine fellow with a limp who we all cheer for and wish well for a good healing before winter. In total we counted six living bears and one carcass of either a cub or a small bear. Many a story, tall tale, and questions were told, asked, or explained, but in the end, the greatest story we experience was simply the one we watched with our eyes as we looped and rounded the island. Under the clear skies, we came upon many mysterious scenes and wonderous sights, pleasing every taste of those who wish for the wild. Many Kittiwake gulls were flying about as they have a nesting colony on the cliffs above. Their eggs and chicks would likely be the only resource of food for these bears trapped on the island. We spotted a few Great skuas, walruses, guillemots and even a few puffins. But as always, the King of the north stole the show. After we returned to the ship we set off North, the true calling of the compass and for some a pinnacle of this journey to the far North. Now knowing our sights were set upon the pack ice, we steamed ahead. A pair of short lectures delivered by Sara and Iain, respectively on Polar Bears and Sea Ice brought a little more clarity to the present days sightings and what lay ahead for the journey. Before dinner most of us enjoyed a nice happy hour drink before recaps by Ali and Phil. Ali told of the events experienced by the expedition team’s early morning scout, which involved an encounter with a surprised and defensive Walrus; resulting in a little early morning drama and a punctured zodiac. This story was followed by tomorrows plans to be in the ice and Phil spoke about how to immigrate to Svalbard. In the end, after a good dinner, tea or other beverages in us, we headed off to sleep with the anticipation of icy expanses that most only ever dream of, knowing that the day ahead had all the potential in the world to enliven, excite, and fill our souls with the cool pleasures that only the ice of the Northern reaches of the planet could provide.

Day 5: North in the ice

North in the ice
Date: 05.08.2018
Position: 82°26.1’N, 017°26.8’E
Wind: E 2
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: +1

Late on Saturday evening, Ortelius had entered the fringes of the pack ice, some had stayed up in anticipation of this moment, and others awoke to a patchwork blanket of ice covering the ocean. We were moving at a steady able continuously northward. Already at 6 am we had reached 82° 23’2 N. The hunt was on to find an Ice bear. However, after the bountiful views of yesterday at Karl XII, just the experience of being in such an environment was astounding. Visibility came and went throughout the morning. Kittiwake gulls were keeping the ship company, benefiting largely as Ortelius pushed aside the sea ice, exposing tasty Polar cod that reside on habitat provided underneath the ice. We swapped from the outer decks, to the bridge, the bow and to the lounge for a warmup and tea or coffee throughout the morning. Lunch was served, and conversation was lively. Outside the ice and mist conditions were ever changing. These elements in themselves were hypnotic and soothing in a way. This is a vista uniquely arctic and one that is sadly in decline. It is a pleasure to enjoy the expanse of such a landscape, time in the ice is a moment to reflect and a time for contemplation. At three pm Adam gave a historical presentation in the lecture room on Benjamin Leigh Smith, A Forgotten Englishman of the north, whilst Jerry presented to the Chinese speaking passengers on whales and further wildlife of the arctic. Although all staff where on either the bridge or deck, with binoculars glued to their heads, a polar bear on ice was not scene. This is not unusual, considering the latitude and quality of ice we had encountered. Several species of seals were sighted both Bearded and Harp. We had reached 82° 28’2 N likely the only ship in this part of the world today, and for most their own personal outermost northern achievement. To co-inside with tomorrows travel preparation’s we exited the ice somewhere around 5 pm. Back in open water we picked up speed. We headed into re-cap to learn of tomorrows planned activities as well as gain a little knowledge of what all the Kittiwakes were doing near our ship all day from Iain. Some additional material of the Northern Fulmar from Ali, the fulmar has been sighted every day in numbers throughout the voyage. Lastly a teaser of what we hope to see tomorrow: Brunneich guillemots on the bird cliffs at Alkefjellet from Sara.

Day 6: Sorgfjord, Alkefjellet, & Brasvellbreen

Sorgfjord, Alkefjellet, & Brasvellbreen
Date: 06.08.2018
Position: 79°35.7’N, 018°29.1’E
Wind: N 4-5
Weather: cloudy
Air Temperature: +10

Sorgfjord is reputably one of the most scenic parts of north east Spitsbergen and one rich in arctic history. It was the scene of possibly the world’s most northerly sea battle in 1693. A charged confrontation between three French naval vessels and forty Dutch whalers, testimony to the value placed on the plunder of these arctic cetaceans. Many explorers such as Nordenskiöld and Parry also based themselves in its naturally calm waters to launch various forays ever northwards. However, it was this same calmness that was our undoing today. Morning mist showed no sign of dissipating in the tranquil peace of the fjord. A wooden cross intermittently revealed itself as an eerie reminder of whalers from days past and a couple of walruses wallowed in the shallows but alas this wonderful arctic gem, steeped in tales from days gone by, was to elude us on this occasion. With just a hint of regret, Ortelius navigated once more into the Hinlopenstretet and turned south for Alkefjellet - Mount Guillemot! Under sunny skies and glassy waters, Alkefjellet can be a pleasant, but not overly atmospheric sai,l where the birds take top billing. Today with low mist shrouding the upper ramparts of the cliff, isolating the doleritic pinnacles and towers from the bastion behind, there is an unearthly element to the landscape. A sense one has walked straight into a colder, more inhospitable lost world. A dark and foreboding canopy lies thickly overhead and a confused sea which swells and crashes against the base, tossing our Zodiacs back and forth. A tempest is in the making! Gone are thoughts of framing that perfect wildlife shot. Instead, hastily taken photos to be cropped later are snatched between sheltering one’s camera from sea spray and the ever-present risk of aerial excrement. And all the while concentrating on keeping that all too recent lunch in its correct place! Vast armies of guillemots’ swarm overhead like clouds of locusts. Beaks filled with fish on the way to their companion on the rocks, while yet more squabble and squawk all around the boat. Amidst this tumultuous sea and cacophony of noise, individual males call to their offspring daring them to take that leap of faith into adulthood. It’s an exciting place to be. All around is life, noise and the stench of guano. To be deep amongst it in such conditions is a pleasure, a real joy. Maybe not entirely comfortable on this day but something to last long into the memory. As always, the great bird cliffs of Mount Guillemot have delivered! As afternoon turned to evening, the skies began to clear. Sporadically broken by domed lenticular clouds indicative of strong winds, riding high over the pale polar desert of Nordaustland. Along past eroded hillsides and shingle shorelines Ortelius sailed until it reached the seemingly endless ice cliffs of Austfonna. Golden light shone on this dramatic and unforgettable ice front with a myriad of its offspring littering the sea in front. Cataracts of glacial effluent could be seen surging down melt channels before cascading terminally into the water beneath. An epic landscape suitably befitting an epic day!

Day 7: Kapp Waldberg & Kapp Lee

Kapp Waldberg & Kapp Lee
Date: 07.08.2018
Position: 78°12.2’N, 020°40.8’E
Wind: N 3
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: +10

A week already into our grand adventure up North in Svalbard. Although the morning started out with coffee cups in hand and an eye out towards Kapp Waldberg, where we hoped to land for a hike into the Kittiwake colonies. The Expedition staff were again glued to their binoculars on the bridge scanning for the ever-elusive Polar Bear, this morning he wasn’t elusive for us at all. Plan “A” was quickly tossed in the waste bin. The ship set a new course for second a potential landing, needing both some shelter from the strong winds blowing down the channel as well as a bear free site. We spent the time in transit watching for bears along the hillsides of Freemondsund. A number of bears were visible from the ship on shore, having lazy bear naps and snoring away under the mid-morning sun. Upon arrival at Sudneset the Expedition team felt hopeful, the winds had calmed, the beach looked good, all until up there on the hill, mixed in amongst the boulders was another Polar bear! Nothing could be done, so we piloted on to the afternoon’s excursion site. After a hearty lunch, we headed down to Kapp Lee with itchy feet ready to go hiking. We split up according to our groups, cameras and rain gear in hand to prepare for our treks. Some ran up and out towards the plateau’s top on the long hike. Others had beach rambles. Some of us in the middle group learned the unfortunate lesson of how true it was to be aware of mud and soft tundra. Several became trapped in the boot-sucking mire, and it was truly a struggle to get out. The rain and wind picked up later in our hikes, making the afternoon fill with what many Scandanavians call “Troll Weather.” Mystical, rainy, wild views surrounded us; clouds swirled and the wily mist pressed upon our faces. We followed the directions of Ali, our fearless expedition leader as a change of beach was necessary due to steepening waves and surf coming into our original landing beach. Although this sight is typically sheltered thus why the Pomors chose it as a hunting camp in the 18th century and built small huts from brick and beach logs, these have sense decomposed and the more obvious cabins built by Norwegian trappers in the early 1900’s is what draws the eye. We transported our bodies and goods around to the calm lagoon where our trusty zodiac drivers came to escort us off the beach and to the cozy warm Ortelius. After a hearty dinner, we set out South, down and around the make it to our next spot: the icy kingdom and beautiful glacial views found in Burgerbukta.

Day 8: Burgerbukta & Brepollen

Burgerbukta & Brepollen
Date: 08.08.2018
Position: 77°01.4’N, 015°59.2’E
Wind: N 3
Weather: fog
Air Temperature: +5

Overnight we had sailed around the Southern tip of the archipelago and up to Hornsund, one of the most spectacular areas of Spitsbergen. Named by Jonas Poole, an English whaler in the 1600’s after his crew returned to the ship bearing a deer’s horn, it is a place of deep, high sided fjords, active glacier fronts and crenellated ridgelines. When we woke there was some low-lying fog and mist in the air, but the weather forecast suggested that it was meant to improve so we wrapped up warmly and the zodiacs were lowered ready for our morning cruise. Our destination was Paierlbreen, a huge valley glacier at the end of the Burgerbukta fjord. This area is known for its steep mountains and dramatic scenery and the low clouds added to the drama of this landscape. We started our cruise along the left-hand side of the bay and stopped regularly at the many waterfalls coming down the cliffs, the huge blue icebergs and the flocks of kittiwakes decorated the brash ice. Advancing northwards up the fjord, visibility improved, and we gained magnificent views of the glacier front that was waiting for us. After almost two hours of cruising we headed back towards the ship, only to hear that two polar bears had been spotted at the entrance of the fjord. Both bears were happily resting up on the moraine slopes and showed little interest in our presence, but nonetheless it was two more to add to our ever-increasing bear count. Back on-board Captain Mikka set a new course to Gåshamna (Goose Bay), a scenic bay surrounded by high mountains, with the highest peak in Hornsund – Horsundtind (1429 meters). As the weather had much improved since the morning the expedition staff were able to offer us a landing with several hiking possibilities. Contemplative, medium, medium photography and a long mountaineering hike to one of the peaks. Those who took the long hike profited in a view from the top which was quite breath taking. With almost clear skies on the summit, we could see the whole of Hornsund up to Brepollen. Those who took the medium walks had time to explore the historical Pomor sites as well as the English land based whaling station in the bay. Remnant whale bones and blubber deposited in the ground still lend amble nutrients to the soil, thus creating small satellite biospheres of flora to the stark glacial outwash landscape. As the afternoon drew to a close, all the groups reconvened on the beach and were given the opportunity to take an Arctic polar plunge! A brave few headed into the 2-degree water, some just to wet their feet and others taking a proper swim, caps, goggles and all. Respect and congratulations to you all! Back on board there was just enough time for a short recap from Ali before heading out on deck to enjoy the Arctic BBQ Dinner that the hotel department had kindly arranged. We gathered on the helideck to enjoy a great feast of grilled ribs, steaks, sausages, salads and mulled wine before dancing the night away to some solid classic tunes – it was the perfect way to end another fabulous expedition day.

Day 9: Poolepynten, Alkhornet

Poolepynten, Alkhornet
Date: 09.08.2018
Position: 78°24.9’N, 015°03.7’E
Wind: S 3
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: +5

Our last morning of arctic excursions started with the anticipated welcoming wakeup call from Expedition leader Ali. We had now fully circumnavigated the Svalbard archipelago and in good planning this morning we arrived at Poolepynten. Good news came over the ships address system that, “YES!” the walrus that we had been looking forward to seeing were at their haul expected out site, or they were “home”. We made our way to breakfast in eager anticipation of the planned activities that lay ahead. This point of land is a favoured site for these marine mammals as it is easily accessible and the location provides a plentiful supply of nearby food, soft sand and relative shelter. We split into two groups for the landing. This allowed for premium viewing in smaller numbers, as well as not to overwhelm the walrus with our presence. Once ashore we walked with our guides to the animals, at a certain distance beyond the minimum 30 meters we were instructed to form a line and slowly walked in unison towards the herd, stopping periodically to observe and appreciate these giants of the Arctic without disturbing them. After about one hour the groups interchanged. The weather remained relatively the same however, small bits of wildlife altered as a sneaky Humpback whale passed by, very close to shore. Day 9 and the first whale we had sighted. We all enjoyed our time with the walrus before heading back to the Ortelius where we had lunch and prepared ourselves for the afternoon activity. The ship transited over to Alkhornet. A striking mass of rock jutting nearly straight out of the ocean and up. This location in Svalbard is almost the crowning landing of everything one could desire in a location. Nesting Kittiwakes and little auks above on the cliffs, colourful tundra, and today more Reindeer than ever imagined. Mist, light wind, and occasional sunshine littered the horizons. Walking groups set off in different directions under the guidance of expedition staff. Each group encountered wildlife in diverse ways, but everyone encountered a reindeer or two, or three or twenty. The terrain was quite fine for walking and we were able to take in some distance as well as photograph and enjoy our final time in the arctic. Back at the beach, we donned our life jackets loaded in the zodiacs for the last time and headed back to the ship. Onboard we had a time to shower or warm up before the Captain’s farewell cocktail as well as a toast to the voyage and crew. Dinner was a fanfare of gourmet delight and on top of this we had a chance to meet some of the galley crew, dinning staff and stewards. A bitter sweet night of returning muck boots, sharing memories, laughs, and photos. Exchanging contact information and enjoying the final moments of a unique and dynamic voyage in the high arctic.

Day 10: Longyearbyen

Date: 10.08.2018
Position: 78°13.8‘N, 015°36.2‘E
Wind: SW 2
Weather: cloudy
Air Temperature: +9

What an adventure it had been that was now coming to an end. After a last night in our cabin, which had come to feel like home, it was time to move on. We put our luggage in the corridors as asked, so the crew could take it off the ship for us. After one last wake-up call and one last breakfast on board, it was time to say goodbye. Goodbye to our ship and its crew and staff, and to our new friends. Arrangements were made to stay in touch and farewells were said. We could look back on an extraordinary trip, and all of us had many memories of wildlife and spectacular scenery during our days at sea, Zodiac-cruising activities and shore landings. Finally, we handed in the keys to our cabins, had one last zodiac ride to the pier where we picked up our luggage and made our way into town or to the airport for our onward journeys. May we meet again somewhere, someday! 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: 1,445 Nautical Miles Most northerly position 82°28‘N, 017°30‘E On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Mika Appel, Expedition Leader Ali Liddle, Hotel Manager Sava and all the crew and staff, it has been a pleasure travelling with you.

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