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PLA04-22, trip log, North Spitsbergen, In search of Polar Bear & Pack Ice Summer Solstice

by Oceanwide Expeditions

Logbook

Day 1: Longyearbyen

Longyearbyen
Date: 15.06.2022
Position: 78°10.2’N / 013°28.3’E
Wind: NW 2
Weather: Partly Cloudy
Air Temperature: +4

Many of the guest arrived at Longyearbyen on the day of embarkation. Throughout the afternoon the luggage was shuttled from the key out to Plancius on anchor in the bay. By 4pm there was an eager line of guests waiting to embark on the Zodiac journey! Our luck with the weather meant that we could save our wet zodiac journeys for later in the trip. Once on board the evening went by quickly as we were busy with familiarisations, safety briefings, cocktails with Captain Torry Sakkariassen and of course a lovely first dinner. As we set off out of Isfjord in the evening, and northward towards our first scheduled activity of the trip, there was time to enjoy the views of the flat table-topped mountains in the late evening light.

Day 2: Smeerenburg - bear sighting at the glacier and ‘blubber town’ afternoon landing

Smeerenburg - bear sighting at the glacier and ‘blubber town’ afternoon landing
Date: 16.06.2022
Position: 79°57.8’N / 006°9.0’E
Wind: SE 1
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +4

The first morning of our voyage in the Arctic arrived and our Expedition Leader Pablo woke us up with an update of weather conditions that awaited us outside the beginning of this adventure. Thirty minutes later Alek announced breakfast time. We were delighted with the fantastic buffet to fill ourselves with energy, so we were then ready to explore. As with every expedition, we must start with a few briefings to inform us of procedures, safety and rules. Although we cannot eliminate our impact, the guidance helps us to minimize our impact as far as possible in this pristine environment. The plan was a ships cruise for the first half of the day to allow enough time for all these mandatory talks. However, the morning was interrupted by the presence of a distant polar bear mother and her two second year cubs. They were in a rocky outcrop at Smeerenburg glacier. Plancius approached very carefully until we were a safe distance from the bears where we started launching zodiacs. The zodiac cruise enabled us to be on the water with a better view of the spectacular moment. Nine boats were deployed, and in a snake-like path, we went closer keeping a considerable distance to prevent disturbing the animals. Fortunately, we had a good time and opportunity to take some beautiful pictures. After some time, we left the bears in piece and continued along the coastline to the glacier front cruising in the magnificent landscape. Out on the zodiac cruse the cold winds reminded us of where we were in the high arctic. It was a lovely warm feeling to be back on board in time for a great lunch prepared and served by the galley team. The ship stayed in the area, and it couldn’t had been a better idea, the next activity planned was a landing at Smeerenburg were there is an historical site related to the early times of the whalers. Very old and faint ruins were spotted by members of the expedition team who explained in detail fascinating tales from centuries ago when the Dutch occupied this promontory which became known as ‘blubber town’. But that was not the only reason we landed there, there was also something very characteristic from the Arctic resting in the beach not far from our landing site: a group of 30 walrus lay very chilled on the beach. Our guides took us there following a slow approach, gradually getting closer to these big mammals. With all the logistics of the day we were able to see how the zodiac operations work on board Plancius. In addition, our good luck and the efforts of the crew and staff brought us an impressive first day to start this dreamed adventure – it will be a challenge to match this in the days to come!

Day 3: Bear sighting at Texas Bar and afternoon landing at Monacobreen

Bear sighting at Texas Bar and afternoon landing at Monacobreen
Date: 17.06.2022
Position: 79°42.9’N / 014°12.9’E
Wind: Calm
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +6

As usual we were woken up by the sweet voice of Pablo at exactly 7 o’clock. Guides were already at the bridge scanning the landing site around Texas bar. The name of the place might give us the impression it is a bar, but it’s not. It is a hut that was built in 1927 by the well-known hunter Hilmar Nøis and his uncle. Why they gave it this name remains a mystery. The area seemed clear of polar bears and safe to land so the guide team went ashore to scout the area from land. Just before the first passengers landed however a bear was spotted in the distance. Although the bear was moving away from the landing site the landing had to be cancelled for safety reasons. There cannot be any chance taken with bears on land as they can cover large distances in a short period of time. It is our absolute priority to keep the passengers and the bears safe. Instead of the landing, Chloe gave a very interesting lecture about polar bears and there was a very lively round of questions at the end of the presentation. This goes to show just how much the king of the Arctic is of interest to people. After lunch there was a Zodiac cruise in front of Monaco Breen, we also found a little island where we could land and enjoy the views of the glacier. After continuing the Zodiac cruise all along the long front of the Monaco glacier we spend some time in-between the ice before returning to the ship. Just before dinner there was a recap by Marcel with some pictures of how Smeerenburg looked in the early years of the 18th century. The recap was overdue from the day before when we visited Smeerenburg but then there was not enough time during the recap. There was a small break during the recap as a polar bear was spotted, but unfortunately the bear quickly went out of sight. Second recap was another enthusiastic delivery from Beth on how to explain the landscape through the geology and glaciology. Last up before dinner was Pablo who told us all about the plans for tomorrow. After dinner there was another bear sighting announced but soon to be rectified to be a “rock bear”. Late evening the Plancius passed Moffen island where some rare gulls were spotted as well as quite a bit of activity by the resident walruses. Altogether another very good day in the Arctic.

Day 4: Zodiac cruising at Alkefjellet and afternoon sighting of bears hunting at Wahlenbergfjord entrance

Zodiac cruising at Alkefjellet and afternoon sighting of bears hunting at Wahlenbergfjord entrance
Date: 18.06.2022
Position: 80°00.7’N / 017°23.0’E
Wind: S 4
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +2

What a day! After breakfast, the Expedition team led us zodiac cruising along the gigantic cliffs of Alkjefellet, literally meaning “Auks (Birds) mountains”. Every year, tens of thousands of seabirds come to breed on these huge rocky walls. AS we approached closer to the cliffs, we could actually see that each species has his own level. Kittiwakes in higher parts, some fulmars too, and 60,000 pairs of Brunnich’s guillemots just below. All the senses were on. Sound, sight, even sense of smell! With there are so many birds, it must attract predators. We got lucky when an Arctic fox appeared, slowly walking under the towering cliffs in search of some eggs or lost birds. The Arctic fox was there for enough time to allow all of us to enjoy the sighting of this cute little polar mammal. Weather and sea conditions were perfect and allowed us to enjoy the full picture and the details. Alex and his team joined us with an extra zodiac and started to offer us hot drinks. Perfect timing for this floating polar bar! In the early afternoon, more Polar bears were spotted - a female and two cubs. Again, conditions helped us to watch them approach a seal and start a hunt. The female missed the first one, we had to leave them for next destination while a second try was underway. After this great moment, the decision was made that we would circle around a bit further to see if we could find more wildlife as it looked like we were on our lucky day. Well, this option appeared to be the good one as a Blue Whale was spotted in late afternoon. Another great moment, watching the biggest mammal worldwide swimming a few meters away. We had the opportunity to see the fluke, back, and fin and to hear the strength of the blow. Kayak Trip Log 18th June - Alkafjellet We started early in the morning, the approaching to the operation zone was made from the south, we had the full view of the mountains, the glacier and finally the cliffs of Alkafjellet. The weather was calm, the sun was shining, and we had no wind - perfect conditions that allowed us to see and enjoy the Guillemots. Thousands of birds flying over us, swimming and landing in the proximity of our kayaks. The noise and the vibration of this animals was surrounding us during this unique experience, where we paddled beneath the cliffs. We saw an arctic fox patrolling the base of the rock towers searching for food, hiding from us. We saw glaucus gull, northern fulmars and kittiwakes flying around and mixing in between the black guillemots. At the end of the second round of kayakers the fog was rolling in over the cliff tops and was covering the limestone tips of the cliffs, offer us a phantasmagorical view of the place. First outing was a complete success thanks to the weather and smooth operations! What a way to experience such a magnificent landscape from a kayak as well as the zodiacs.

Day 5: Bears near the Sjuøyane, zodiac cruise and landings at Chermsideøya

Bears near the Sjuøyane, zodiac cruise and landings at Chermsideøya
Date: 19.06.2022
Position: 80°36.8’N / 020°17.9’E
Wind: NE 1
Weather: Fog
Air Temperature: 0

The announcement of a bear sighting at 0800 was a great way to start the day! The bear sat on the pack ice in front of one of the islands belonging to the magical island group Sjuøyane. The bear did not move around much but was mostly just relaxing and every now and then he stuck his nose in the air, to sniff for any prey nearby. Although it is always amazing to see a polar bear, it did mean we had to cancel our landing on one of the islands, so we turned the ship around and moved toward Chermsideøya. At Chermsideøya we had the opportunity to navigate the zodiacs through the ice in search of some wildlife. It started with a bearded seal relaxing on the sea ice, followed by a swimming walrus, and more seals and walruses lying on the ice a bit further away. The water was flat calm, which provided beautiful reflections of the surrounding hills. Because the water was so clear, we could look into the water and see the algae and kelp. Throughout the zodiac cruise the sea ice started to close in, leading to some exciting and tricky navigation through the ice back to Plancius! After the zodiac cruise, we enjoyed the delicious lunch provided by the crew, and we had a brilliant surprise… through the windows in the restaurant, we saw a walrus with a baby on the sea ice nearby on Plancius’ starboard side! Really cute! Some amazing photos were taken of this very special sighting. After being fuelled with the lunch, we could test if our sea legs still worked on land, after a few days on the ship. We landed at the southern point of Chermsideøya on the beach. Here we had the opportunity to hike up the hill and enjoy the glorious views from height. Below the hill, words were written on the ground with rocks, geological graffiti. It had become a habit amongst expeditions that visited the site to leave a ‘who is who’ with the name of the ship and the year. There was even a swastika, created by crew members of a German submarine during the second world war. The swastika led to a lot of debate if such a symbol belongs in this peaceful environment. During the recap, Regis gave an informative talk on guillemots, rounding up the abundance of these birds which we say the day before. Following this Keechy surprised us by introducing us to Svalbard’s tropical forest! Spoiler alert, it was a 380 million year old fossil forest… Last but not least, in the evening dinner was not served in the restaurant… We had a BBQ at the back deck! Accompanied with some party music and (glüh)wine flowing freely, the evening quickly turned into a party with loads of laughter and dancing into the night! A fantastic ending to another brilliant, fully packed day! Kayak Trip Log 19th June - Chermsideøya After a long sea day, we arrived to Chermsideøya, a sheltered bay between the islands where there was a notable coverage of sea ice still. This northern area has only been accessible due to less sea ice at this time of year in the last 20 years which today provided a fantastic and different kayaking opportunity compared to Alkefjellet. Moment of silence. Birds feeding on copepods drifting from the base of the ice flow, some bearded seals visiting us very quiet and shy, just swimming very close to our kayaks and checking us a few times before moving on. We paddle for more than an hour, immersed in a beautiful landscape with a mix of brash ice, mountains, and healthy sea ice. The rest of the passengers climbed one of the ridges of a hill while we were arriving to the landing. Here, the second group of kayakers were waiting for their chance to have the same experience of solitude amongst some of Svalbard’s northern islands, including Chermsideøya.

Day 6: Into to pack ice

Into to pack ice
Date: 20.06.2022
Position: 80°15.3’N / 011°37.5’E
Wind: NE 3
Weather: Partly Cloudy
Air Temperature: +4

We spend the day approaching the sea ice pack and skirted along the edge. Many binoculars were looking into the bright ice covered ocean and observing all the varying shades of blue illuminating the ice. The furthest North position we reached was 80°57.3’ North 18° 10.9 East. It was a sunny day, the views were clear and beautiful. It was wonderful to be able to spend time out on deck or in the warmth of the bridge enjoying the views across the restless ice blocks that cast a brightness in the sky above. The occasional blue skies and calm morning weather were a welcome rest after the kayaking and walk yesterday. By the afternoon the swell had increased making Plancius roll and pitch more than usual. During the day many of us suffered the consequences of the motion and showed sea sickness symptoms. The Doctor was busy delivering medication to assist where possible aiming to reduce the unescapable feeling of seasickness! The ship was quite by the evening as many had retired to their cabins early due to the weather and the earlier start scheduled for tomorrow. The quiet day by the ice allowed us to process the range of wildlife we had been fortunate to see on this trip, to play games and to enjoy the piece of the Arctics far north, something we cannot experience in our bustling lives back home.

Day 7: Ny-London landing and polar plunge

Ny-London landing and polar plunge
Date: 21.06.2022
Position: 78°10.9’N / 013°35.8’E
Wind: W 3
Weather: Rain showers
Air Temperature: +6

Rise and shine on the longest day of the year! Early morning today! We had our first landing at 0700, after an early bird breakfast of a selection of pastries in the lounge. It was really windy outside, making for a bumpy zodiac ride to the shore of Ny-London in order to wake us all up. On shore we were greeted by beautiful purple saxifrages, and those weren’t the only flowers around! There were also stunning white arctic bell heather and mountain avens. We had to tread carefully around a nesting long tailed skua as well! There were a few buildings and artefacts around, including an old railway line. They were built between 1910 and 1913 by the Northern Exploration Company, led by the Englishman Ernest Mansfield. They were hoping to find large quantities of high-quality marble. The marble was there, but it was of poor quality with cracks, and consequently Mansfield was fired. The houses were later frequently used by trappers for overwintering, there was even someone born in 1930! After exploring this beautiful, historic site, the brave amongst us did a polar plunge in the cold waters of the fjord! Followed by a bumpy ride back to the ship, so that we could continue to make our way back south. In the afternoon we had some time to relax and listen to some more lectures about topics that were asked about during the week. We also watched two stunning videos made by a passenger, Marcus, about Antarctica, which made us all want to go on another trip! The day ended with some amazing food and the captain’s cocktail, where we also watched a video of this weeks’ adventures, kindly put together by Markus. And what an amazing week it has been! From polar bears to glaciers, to walrus, to birds, to sea ice, and so much more! Most of all, it was a week with a lot of big smiles on faces!

Day 8: Arrival back into Longyearbyen

Arrival back into Longyearbyen
Date: 22.06.2022
Position: 78°14.0’ N, 015°37.6’E
Wind: SSE 4
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +4

Early this morning, we arrive in Longyearbyen. While we enjoy a last breakfast on board, our suitcases are taken off the ship. It is a sad moment to disembark from the Plancius, which has been a comfortable and cosy home during this unforgettable journey. We have have shared really unique moments, have seen a lot of animals, and made new friends. Loaded with fond memories we now must head home.

Details

Tripcode: PLA04-22
Dates: 15 Jun - 22 Jun, 2022
Duration: 7 nights
Ship: m/v Plancius
Embark: Longyearbyen
Disembark: Longyearbyen

Trip log video

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