|Position:||78°13.8’ N / 015°36.10’ E|
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.