PLA05-18, trip log, Ice Age 3 x 60

by Oceanwide Expeditions

Logbook

Day 1: Embarkation – Longyearbyen

Embarkation – Longyearbyen
Date: 11.06.2018
Position: 078°13’N / 015°36’E
Wind: Light Air
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +4

Longyearbyen is situated at 78° north and, as such is one of the world’s most northerly settlements. It grew up as a coal mining town but now is home to around 2,100 residents who live and work here all year round. This number temporarily swells during the summer months with the arrival of thousands of visitors on cruise ships.

We had arrived at the airport a little later than scheduled but we still had some time to explore the town and buy a few postcards and souvenirs and maybe have a coffee before we had to make our way down to the port to board Plancius.
We were met at the gangway by the Expedition staff who embarked us 10 at a time up the gangway where we were taken to Reception to be checked in by our Hotel Managers Michael, DJ and their assistant Gabor. From here we were shown to our cabins by the very welcoming hotel staff and found our luggage already there.

We had some time to familiarise ourselves with our cabin before we were called to the Lounge for a briefing from our Hotel Manager, Michael who explained some of the procedures on board Plancius, our home for the next few days. By this time we were departing the pier so we had some time on deck in the sunshine before we were called back to the Lounge for the mandatory safety briefing which was given by our 3rd Officer Luis Oroceo. This gave us all the information we needed about safety on board the ship and prepared us for the lifeboat drill that was to follow. We heard the abandon ship alarm and gathered at the muster station, the Lounge, wearing our big orange life jackets, the only time we hope to be wearing them. After the roll call we were taken out to the lifeboats to see where they were located and how we would embark if required.

We met in the Lounge once again to meet with our Captain Evgeny Levakov who explained a little bit about our forthcoming trip and then we toasted our voyage with champagne.

It was then a chance to meet the rest of the Expedition team, who will be guiding us safely here in Svalbard for this trip. We have an international team on board with a wealth of experience both here in the Arctic and Antarctica Our Expedition leader, Michael Ginzburg gave us a little more information about our plans for the trip. He showed us an ice chart and it was clear to see that the pack ice is a long way north this year and on a short 4 day trip it will be impossible to reach this line of ice.

It was then time for dinner, which was a chance to meet with our fellow passengers before our last task of the day which was to collect our rubber boots and zodiac life jackets from the boot room.
With 24 hours of daylight many of us enjoyed some time out on deck during the evening spotting Fulmars, Guillemots, Kittiwakes and the tiny Little auks. It was a very pleasant evening on board.

Day 2: Ny London and 14 Julibukta

Ny London and 14 Julibukta
Date: 12.06.2018
Position: 078°59’N / 011°28’E
Wind: N 4/5
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +1

Our first morning of the voyage started with the sound of Michael's voice, gently waking us at 07:15. While it was a bit windy, and there was some low light sea fog, conditions were very promising. After visiting the breakfast buffet, we were called to the lounge for our mandatory briefings. As we are operating in Polar bear territory, it is essential that we understand the risks, responsibilities and tricks necessary to keep us - and the wildlife - safe.

The briefings also explained the Zodiac (small boat) operations, so we were all set to go ashore when we arrived at our intended landing place for the morning. By the time we had also viewed a short animation about how to behave in the Arctic, prepared by AECO, the organisation for Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators, we had arrived on location. We were at Ny London, on Blomstrandhalvoya in Kongsfjord, Northwestern Spitsbergen.

Excited to begin our adventure on shore, we quickly gathered at the gangway and made our way into the Zodiac boats. It was a little windy and there was some swell at the gangway, but we took our time and got ashore (mostly) dry. We landed in a small cove, with two buildings directly above us, and rusting machinery beyond that. The small collection of huts and equipment, grandly called Camp Mansfield, was established by John Mansfield, a prospector who thought the island's marble could be quarried and shipped to Europe to be sold. War and the Great Depression meant that his vision was never realised.

We broke into our walking groups and began exploring the area. Most of us started by joining Frigga at the huts, where she explained some of the history of the location, grounding us in the Arctic in the 1910s. Depending on the group we had chosen to join, we set off in different directions across the tundra, searching out views, wildlife and history as we went. The stark landscape was dotted with the occasional reindeer, birds including ducks and skuas were spotted, and Purple saxifrage bloomed beneath our feet. All too soon, we were back down at the landing beach, in our lifejackets, and on a Zodiac heading back to the ship. Lunch was calling us! Back up the gangway, we quickly stripped out of our heavy gear and headed for the lounge or dining room.

After a short afternoon break, we were arriving at 14th July Glacier, where we planned a combined landing and Zodiac cruise. Named for Bastille Day by Duke Albert I of Monaco.
This glacier is a tidal glacier, with a floating tongue of ice coming out into the sea and calving icebergs regularly. Half of us started with a landing on a strip of tundra below a bird cliff swarming with Kittiwakes, where we walked along to admire the views, watch reindeer and explore the area. A small exposed natural quarry had a melt pool and flowering garden, with yellow Draba and Purple saxifrage thriving in the shelter and warmth. The tundra itself was full of little things to explore, with feathers, bones, scat and fascinating rocks all catching our attention.

Meanwhile, the second half of the group went Zodiac cruising along the glacier front, where the blue of the older ice was obvious and very beautiful. We investigated a little iceberg, took photos with an Ice Age theme, and listened to the ice crackle around us, then headed past the landing site to a small bird cliff with Brünnichs guillemots, Black guillemots, the occasional gull, and one lone Puffin breeding in the safest spots they can claim. Proof that it is worthwhile searching out a good nest site came on four legs, when an Arctic fox arrived on the scene, sniffing around for a meal or two. Still wearing some of his white winter fur, he was surprisingly small, and dark grey with a bright white middle.
Back in the Lounge after our excursion, we chatted, learned a little about the local birds, and heard from Michael that we will have the opportunity to do a longer walk tomorrow. Dinner was a noisy affair, where we continued to catch up with old friends and make new ones. After the main meal, there was a special presentation to 'encourage' the ice bears to come and visit us, with a group leading a Karaoke session that we all joined in on for the second round. Everybody had a good laugh, and we moved up to the Lounge again for more socialising before bed.

Day 3: Tordenskjoldbukta and Alkhornet

Tordenskjoldbukta and Alkhornet
Date: 13.06.2018
Position: 078°17’N / 012°53’E
Wind: NW 3
Weather: Clear
Air Temperature: +3

After a late night for some, we were called to breakfast. Those that were to take part in the long hike had the chance to make their lunch to pack away in their bags along with their drinks and extra warm clothing.
We made a landing at Tordenskjoldbukta and the long hikers set off, not to be seen again for several hours. It was a large group but with Michael, Marie and the Doctor they were in safe hands.

Those of us that remained in the area split into 3 groups with two medium hiking groups and a leisurely stroll group. One of the medium hike groups, led by Frigga went inland first while Ali led a group along the shore. The coastal walk was beautiful with fabulous rock formations, including sea stacks and cliffs, most of which had Barnacle geese sitting on them and nesting Glaucous gulls. A skull, complete with a huge set of antlers and backbone was found and Ali looked for clues and did some detective work to work out that it was an old male that had died in late summer and it had been eaten by and Arctic fox. Continuing along the tundra we all had the chance to see some live Reindeer as well as an array of birdlife (Snow Bunting, Barnacle Geese, Purple Sandpiper, Eider Ducks, Kittiwake and Great Skua).

The inland group also had some Reindeer and geese and enjoyed exploring the rocky ridge with views to the mountains and an inland lake. The time passed quickly as we enjoyed the views over the flat tundra and wildlife and at the end of the landing both groups joined together and we went back to the ship for lunch.

The plan for the long hikers was to start out from the first landing of the day, Tordenskjoldbukta, and go by foot to the second landing at Alkhornet. It is no less than 22km pending on the route, and 37 in total set out to complete the project. The first part of the hike was to cross Daumannsoyra, where at this time of year there is wetlands with lots of wildlife. On our way we met a King eider, and lots of Pink footed geese that had already found their breeding grounds which we tried to avoid at our best. Several times we were approached and followed by young curious Svalbard reindeer, that gave us quite the spectacle at times. We were all eager to see what the largest river crossing our route would be like, but no heavy rainfall and the main part of melting season already over, we could cross without the big adoo. After this we set course for the coastline to follow it to the end of our route, walking across the tundra on a carpet of purple saxifrage on our way. When we arrived at the beach we were gently greeted by the rolling waves of the Barents Sea and a harbour seal. As the conditions were light wind with snow in the air, and we had some margheritas to get back to, we decided to call for an earlier pick up by zodiac and therefore slowly kept walking among driftwood on the shoreline until our heroic zodiac drivers arrived. Quite a windy day, it was an adrenaline filled and long zodiac drive with the odd puffin flying by.

As the ship repositioned for the second landing, the long hikers kept on walking. After a couple of hours of sailing we found ourselves in the shelter of Tryghammna, which translates as safe harbour and the anchor was dropped ready for us to go ashore for our afternoon landing at Alkhornet. The weather had been getting worse through lunch time but it was still pleasant outside with the snow falling, dusting the surrounding landscape with a fine powder.

The guides from the ship set off to scout the area and the landing was made safe ready for passengers but only 10 ventured out into the snowy conditions. They were lucky to have the attention of the 4 guides ashore and saw some very relaxed Reindeer and enjoyed listening to the birds high up on the cliffs above on the main horn of the mountain. Kittiwakes and Guillemots were constantly flying past on their way back to the colony high above and Kittiwakes were flying around the cliffs like mosquitos. birdlife and learnt some more about the history of Alkhornet.

Once onboard, Margherita were served at the bar and with some non speech speeches for our lovely hosts the evening was very jolly in the bar and the socialising continued out on the back deck with an Arctic BBQ. It was a little chilly but with Gluwein and hot food things soon warmed up and we all had a very memorable evening.

Day 4: St Jonsfjord and Poolepynten

St Jonsfjord and Poolepynten
Date: 14.06.2018
Position: 078°21’N / 012°29’E
Wind: SE 1
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: 0

For some people who had maybe had one too many margaritas the wakeup call came a little early this morning but by the time breakfast was over everyone was feeling a lot better and ready to go ashore in beautiful St Jonsfjord. The staff were already there to meet us and once on shore we divided into our usual walking groups with the long hikers stopping at the old trapper’s cabin first before hiking up the moraine while the medium hikers went inland in the opposite direction. The leisurely group made their way along the shore to the hut and enjoyed some time along the beautiful tundra which was a carpet of Purple saxifrage in places.

Both of the hiking groups made it up to the top of the moraine and had beautiful views down onto the top of the Gaffelbreen glacier. After taking plenty of photos it was time to just sit and enjoy the Artic silence, although the Artic is never really silent. We could hear the meltwater stream running down from the glacier, male Eider duck were calling in the bay and a male Rock ptarmigan flew from his rocky roost and passed overhead with a strange clicking sound. It was a magical few moments on Svalbard.

From here it was time to make our way back down the moraine and along the slope to reach the beach. It had been a really lovely morning exploring the lowland area of St Jonsfjord.
Back on board we all enjoyed a leisurely lunch as the ship repositioned to Poolepynten, our landing locations for our last excursion ashore. Our mission for the afternoon was to visit the Walrus that often haul out on the low-lying spit of land and even from the ship we could see that they were at home.

The first group was soon ashore with the guides and we made our way along the beach which was covered with driftwood, most of which has come from the forests of Siberia and travelled around the Arctic region on the circumpolar currents. We could see Arctic terns gathered by the pond having just arrived from Antarctica to breed for the summer season.

As we got closer to the Walrus we made a line which was controlled by the guides and we slowly made our approach. We could smell the Walrus before we could see them and as we lined up between the navigation marker and the hut we could see over 60 Walrus, all males lying together in a pile. The females and calves are currently out on the sea ice to the east and north as the calves are born in May and June. These males were mostly just sleeping and scratching but occasionally one would try and climb over the pile and those being squashed by 1500kg of blubber would grunt and grumble, raising their tusks and giving us a very nice show.

There were quite a few Walrus in the water as well which gave us a great show as they came to check us out and then play fought amongst themselves. We watched one make its way into the sea by rolling over like a sausage, an easy way to move a large volume of blubber. We could see young males and older, mature bulls, distinguished by the lumps on their necks, ‘bosses’ and by much longer tusks. It was a real privilege to be able to spend time with these marine mammals and enjoy watching their interactions in the group. Both groups enjoyed some fabulous time with the Walrus but also enjoyed the birds along the shore, a Brünnichs guillemot and some feeding Grey Phalarope were seen on the shore line.
Back on board we had time to warm up before returning our rubber boots to the boot room and then getting ready for Captains Cocktails in the Lounge. This was a chance to toast the success of our voyage with the Captain, Evegeny Levakov and also thank the Expedition team for their hard work on this voyage. After a chilly photo session on the front deck it was time for a celebratory dinner which went on long into the night. Happy Birthday to all our special guests!

Total distance sailed on our voyage: Nautical miles: 380nm | Kilometres: 703km

On behalf of everyone on board we thank you for travelling with us and wish you a safe journey home.

Details

Tripcode: PLA05-18-WBC
Dates: 11 Jun – 15 Jun, 2018
Duration: 4 nights
Ship: m/v Plancius
Embark: Longyearbyen
Disembark: Longyearbyen

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