OTL15-15 Trip Log | Cleaning the shores – Polar Bear special
04.09.2015 by Oceanwide Expeditions Triplog
Longyearbyen is a former coal mining settlement with a population of about 2,300, and is one of the world’s northern most settlements. It was named after the American, John Munro Longyear (1850-1922), who was one of the founders of the Arctic Coal Company (1906-1916). Coal is still produced in a mine near Longyearbyen but not in quantities seen in the early part of the 20th century. The settlement is situated in a beautiful fjord, and on a fine day with only light clouds on the summits it was a fabulous day to enjoy the views across the fjord and up to the head of the bay.
With embarkation not until 4pm there was plenty of time to explore the small town, either visiting the fabulous museum or taking a walk along the shore to the dog kennels where a large number of Eider Duck and Banacle Geese can be found on the ponds. Some people had been further afield on bus tours and dog tours but whatever the activity, the dry, calm weather conditions were perfect for it.
Our expedition ship and home for the next week, the Ortelius was waiting for us at the harbor and at 4pm we were welcomed on board.
Once on board we were met at Reception by Michael and Katrin and shown to our cabins by the friendly hotel staff. Shortly afterwards, once we had started to find our way around the ship we were invited to the lecture room on Deck 3 where Michael gave us a useful speech about the ship, from basic rules about toilet system to high tech wifi and internet connections. This was followed by a mandatory SOLAS, safety at sea briefing which was given by our Third Officer, Warren and outlined our abandon ship procedures and how to react in case of distress signals. This was followed by a practice drill where we collected our big orange lifejackets and gathered at the muster station in the bar to be checked off the list. It is always good to know such things, and hopefully never need to put them into practice!
We then gathered in the Bar once again for Captain’s Cocktails, a chance to meet our expedition leader Jim, who introduced us to the rest of the team and toast our great adventure ahead with our Captain, Ernesto Barría. After a great dinner, prepared by the chefs Christian and Mathew, we were sailing in the large fjord of Isfjorden. On both sides of Isfjorden flat-lying sedimentary rocks only 45–60 million years old were exposed, very young compared to most other parts of Spitsbergen, carved by recent glaciers to display beautiful U-shaped valleys. The weather conditions were calm and sunny and with Fulmars flying around the ship it was lovely to be out on deck as well enjoying the long Arctic summer day. Tired after the long journey and all the new impressions and experiences many of us quickly found our bunks while the ship sailed into the open sea towards the north and the start of our “Cleaning the Shores” adventure.
This morning we started early, we got a wakeup call at 7:15 and there was breakfast at 7:30. We were told that we had arrived at Raudfjord. Raudfjord means "The red bay". It was named that way because of the iron rich sandstone that gives the sediments the red color on the east side of the fjord.
Later on the Muck boots and gloves were handed out and we had to remember an extra pair of socks. These ‘Muck’ boots keep our feet dry and warm when we go ashore, cleaning and hiking through mud and crossing melt water streams. After the hand out we were given a lecture about to be a real arctic explores and about environmental protection and how to deal with Polar bears.
Hiking groups must stay close to their rifle and flare gun carrying staff at all times for safety in bear country. Also, guidance on “closed areas”, such as historic sites, fragile places and wildlife breeding areas is important.
At the same time we were divided in to two groups, The Kings and The Emperors and the first group that was the cleaning team was the The Emperors.
The whole day was cloudy and wet in in contrast to the day before with sunshine the whole day for departure in Longyearbyen. At 10:30 we went to the beach for cleaning, working the cleaning at the beach at Raudfjord, and oh my gosh there was a lot of rubbish. After the cleaning we ended up with a wing or a rudder from a ship and an oil drum which were the biggest things we found. Besides that we collected four cubic meters of small ropes, plastic, shoes, and a lot of other rubbish at the beach. After a good morning and a good conscience we went back to the Ortelius for lunch and a good rest.
At the afternoon we went to Alicehamna for a hike and started the hike at an old trapper station The Norwegian trappers where the people that were hunting Arctic fox and Polar bears in the old days.
The cool temperature of the sailing trip was soon forgotten as we disembarked the Zodiacs on the beach and began our hikes. There were long hikers and leisure hikers. The long hikers made it up the steep rocky slopes of Alicehamna where they were rewarded with marvelous views across Raudfjord.
After a couple of hours we went back to Ortelius and once everyone was back on board the Captain headed north; leaving Raudfjord and going toward Rijpfjorden. On our way to Rijpfjorden we made a brief stop near a small island named Moffen. As this is a nature reserve, we were not allowed to set foot ashore, but from the ship we could have a look at our first walrus of the trip.
We lay in until 07.45 this morning though some of us were on deck earlier to enjoy the bright sunshine and icy autumn chill in the air. The magnificent Polar desert landscape of the Rijpfjord was especially beautiful.
Following coffee and breakfast Jim outlined the days planned activities and by 09.45 we set off in the zodiacs into the rarely visited Wordiefjord. As on the previous day we split into two groups. One group visited the hut named Haudegen which had been used by the German forces during the Second World War. They were unaware that the war had ended and surrendered to the Norwegians in September 1945. Meanwhile at the other location the rest of us set about cleaning the shoreline and some of the hinterland.
The usual garbage was found throughout the beach and some had been blown inland. The low sun picked out the wonderful features of the land forms and the subtle colour of the sparse vegetation. Landing at the hut was restricted due to the presence of a sleeping Polar bear which lay in a rocky hollow 2 kilometers away. We viewed the bear from the zodiacs but it showed little interest in us. It was a young, approximately 3 to 4 years old, and appeared to be in good condition.
Back on board we enjoyed a well-earned lunch and at 15.00 we returned to the same locations in reverse order. The bear was not seen so a walk was possible, with caution! The sun shone brightly throughout the day in contrast to the two cloudy and wet previous days. Snow Buntings, Barnacle Geese and Eider Ducks were seen in small numbers. Feeding Arctic Terns and Kittiwake Gulls were seen close to the shore as we boarded the zodiacs. At this time of year the sun remains low in the sky throughout the day, and most of the night. There is definitely a ‘change of season, feeling and the overall atmosphere is very still, very quiet.
Back on board we enjoyed dinner an exchanged our thoughts and experiences of a great day spent in the high Arctic. Ortelius set a northward course in smooth seas.
After the second day of cleaning we were heading towards Storøya. We arrived at Storøya early in the morning and due to shallow waters around the island the captain anchored Ortelius on a fair distance.
In the morning call Jim announced that the temperature was +1 degree Celsius. After breakfast it was time to plan today’s trip and start lowering the zodiacs into the water. By that time the wind speed was 12 knots (north east wind) by the bridge. When the guides were in their zodiacs, the wind started to increase and the visibility became poorer with snow and rain.
Guests in the gangway were excited to jump into the bouncing zodiacs while the crew members and guides tried their best to hold the boats as still as possible. This operation started to take a long time because the waves were getting bigger and bigger. Many of the guests had wet feet already from standing on the gangway.
After 45 minutes of operation the wind was measured to 32 knots with higher waves and significantly poorer visibility, so expedition leader Jim cancelled the zodiac cruise to Storøya. At that time we had only 3,5 zodiacs full with passengers and we started to bring the guests back to the ship.
Jim immediately a meeting with the captain for plan B. They decided that Ortelius would sail to Phippsøya and it would take seven hours to sail there. During the sailing we had interesting lectures from Arjen who studied Barnacle Geese in Ny-Ålesund and Bill gave a lecture about famous works of art of the seas. Carol Divine talked about her obsession with polar rubbish, especially her experience with garbage in Antarctica.
In the evening we arrived to Sjuøyane and the guides had a meeting with the expedition leader at the deck. The sea looked much calmer in this area. We decided to have an evening zodiac cruise to Phippsøya. Almost all of the guests joined the beautiful zodiac cruise which ended up with really nice and clear weather with contrasts on the mountain with fresh snow on the peaks. It was clear sky and hardly any wind.
David informed that there were walruses in the water in front of Utkiksnosa. There were quite many of them and some of them were very curios and came close to the boats.
After the meeting with the walruses, Jim decided to have an unplanned walk in the bay which was really appreciated by the guests. Some of the guests were disappointed that we didn’t bring garbage bags to this bay. We were met by beautiful scenery with the landscape covered with a layer of freshly fallen snow. After the short walk it was time to return back to the ship as it started to be quite late.
It was pleasant to be back in the warm ship which turned it course to the next adventure: the pack ice.
Remembered as an aesthetic experience as the passengers awoke to find
themselves in a vast sea of sparkling ice.
At 81 degrees 38 north 19 degrees 50 east with an air and sea temperature of 0 degrees, at 8.30am, our first bear was spotted resting on a substantial ice-flow. The captain inched Ortelius gently through the ice towards it. Excited passengers lined the rails as the sound of a thousand photographic clicks filled the air. At 12.00 the excitement increased and hundreds more photographs taken when we sighted a mother with two cubs, one male, one female, walking across the ice. As she was with cubs she was extremely cautious and gradually led them across the ice away from the ship.
All afternoon was spent cruising in the ice with an occasional harp seal sighting The highlight being a rare Bowhead whale which surfaced in the ice 1 km from the ship.
Birds seen during the afternoon included Pomeraine Skuas, Fulmars, Glaucous Gulls and at 4.35pm the captain reported that he had counted over 30 Ivory Gulls at once.
Stephan delivered an interesting lecture on whale communication. The most astonishing of the many facts presented was that Blue whales in Canadian waters could communicate underwater as far as the Indian Ocean.
Mick, our Irish Ornithological expert, delivered a detailed and superbly illustrated talk on the Seabirds of Svalbard.
Later, passengers experienced one of the undoubted highlights of the voyage, a sighting of 4 bears on the ice. Two walked slowly away across the flows whilst two large younger bears who were probably siblings, treated the delighted passengers to a prolonged session of play-fighting. They then walked up and being curious, investigated the ship at close-quarters. This gave everyone the stunning opportunity to observe and photograph them at close-range. Magnificent!
What a day! An Oceanwide Expeditions experience at its very best.
This day started in Woodfjorden where we were going to do our last cleaning session at a beach close to Mushamna. We divided up into two groups again and spread out with our white bags ready to be filled with garbage. This beach was really full of drift wood coming all the way from Russia, which also means that it was full of plastic and other manmade things that don’t belong in the arctic.
Everyone worked hard for over 2 hours and the beach really looked good when we left. The Ortelius now sailed deeper in to the fjord to a place called Texas Bar which is not as promising as it sounds, don’t expect any drinks or cowboys for that matter. This is an old trappers hut built by the famous Norwegian trapper Hilmar Nøis in 1927. This man is well known because he has overwintered 37 times in Svalbard hunting for Polar Bear and fox. It is very nice walking close to this hut so after lunch we went ashore and some of us took a long hike up to a glacier and others went up on the mountain side. The ones that didn’t want to walk as far stayed longer at the hut and istened to stories about the Trappers.
Just after dinner our lovely captain took the ship close to the beautiful Monaco Glacier named after Albert I duke of Monaco who was up here in the beginning of 1900’s.
Looking at this huge glacier front stretching at least 5 km from side to side was spectacular and the fog over the snow covered mountains made it even better. This was a very nice way to end the day before we start heading south again.
Overnight the captain brought the ship all around the northwest corner of Spitsbergen and when we were woken by Jim’s wake up call, we were already sailing into Kongsfjord. After our breakfast the zodiacs brought us ashore at Ny London on Blomstrandhalvøya. Here we were told not to pick up any garbage anymore. Not that the place didn’t need a good clean, but most of the rusty metal scraps we found were left behind by Ernest Mansfield and his crew who unsuccessfully tried to mine for marble here from 1910 to 1913. His lack of success wasn’t because he didn’t try hard enough as we could still see by all the, now rusty, equipment and huts that were left behind. When he shipped the first load of marble to England, it turned out to be of very low quality. This meant the end of the operations at Ny London.
After we had a look at the remains, we split up in three different groups. The longer one set of to climb a mountain to get a good overview of the stunning Kongsfjord, while the middle and leisurely group stayed a bit lower and took some time to absorb the scenery from a lower viewpoint. One of the highlights of all walks was some Svalbard Reindeer that we all had nice views of. They were very busy with eating the last bits of vegetation to gain some more fat which they need in order to survive winter. Back on the landing site the zodiacs were waiting for us to take us on a short zodiac cruise to some of the ice bergs that were floating in the bay. After we had a look at a few and taken some more pictures we were brought back to the ship where lunch was waiting for us.
After lunch it was time to settle our accounts with Michael and Katrin and to hand in our rubber boots that brought us all over the tundra. While we were sailing towards Isfjord and Longyearbyen, Mick told us all about the difficulties with navigation at sea including the problems of longitude, Mr. Harrison and his clocks.
In the evening we were invited to join the Expedition staff and Captain Ernesto for “Captain’s Cocktails” in the bar which was a chance to toast our wonderful Arctic voyage to the northern parts of Spitsbergen and Nordaustlandet. It has been a fantastic trip to remember.
It was now time to say farewell to our great adventure, to our safe floating home and to our lovely new friends! This morning Ortelius was alongside the post at Longyearbyen ready for us to disembark, which was a dry landing compared to our embarkation and our landings throughout the trip. Once we had enjoyed our last breakfast on board we were able to disembark at 09.00 am, for our bus to town and later to the airport.
Total distance sailed on this voyage:
1050 Nautical Miles / 1944,6 Kilometres
Our most northerly position:
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!