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PLA05-19, trip log, North Spitsbergen, In search of Polar Bear & Pack Ice

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Embarkation in Longyearbyen

Embarkation in Longyearbyen
Date: 03.06.2019
Position: 78°13’N - 015°36’E
Wind: S4
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +5

It was a wonderful sunny day in Longyearbyen when we made our way to the port. The little blue ship Plancius was already waiting for us at the pier. We watched how the luggage was craned on board, then it was time for us to walk up the gangway for the very first time. Hotel manager Zsuszsanna welcomed us and the friendly Philippine crew showed us to our cabins. We had some time to explore the ship before we all gathered in the Lounge for an introduction to the ship from Zsuszanna and a safety briefing by first officer Miia. Then the lines were cast off and we were under way, our adventure had begun. The colourful houses of Longyearbyen grew smaller and we sailed out into the Isfjord. The next program point was the practical part of the lifeboat drill. Equipped with warm clothes and our bright oranges life jackets we first mustered in the lounge and then went out on deck to inspect the lifeboats. Let’s hope that we will never have to see them from the inside again. After the drill we were in for a treat: The Captain’s Cocktail. We met our Captain Ernesto Barria and toasted with him and the expedition team to a successful and safe voyage. We had time to enjoy the nature surround the ship before going down for the dinner where we enjoyed the three-course meal served by head chef Khabir. After dinner one more thing had to be ticked off, we were issued with rubber boots which would accompany us on our adventures and keep us dry and warm. Late in the evening the Midnight sun tempted many on the outside decks. The sun wouldn’t set for the next 7 days. With beautiful light and stunning mountains, it was hard to find the way into bed.

Day 2: Ny London and 14th Julibukta

Ny London and 14th Julibukta
Date: 04.06.2019
Position: 78°57.5’N - 012°87.0’E
Wind: NW4
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +3

This morning we landed at Ny-London on Blomstrandhalvøya, the mining camp of the Northern Exploration Company led by Ernest Mansfield. In early 20th century a marble mining operation was started here, but the dreams of easy fortune were shattered just like the marble was during transport back to the UK. We were explained that a typical Arctic condition known as permafrost was responsible for the bad quality of the marble. We could still see the remains of the mining camp. After walking around in the camp, we were split into four hiking groups. We could all see the beautiful surroundings of Ny-London with plenty of wildlife to be spotted such as reindeer, barnacle geese and purple sandpipers. After a rewarding lunch we sailed on to the 14th Julibukta where we had a split landing and zodiac cruise along the Bird-cliff and the 14th Juli glacier. Under the watchful eye of our expedition staff we could walk around freely within a perimeter. Under the bird cliff mainly occupied by Kittiwakes we spotted an Arctic fox who popped up several times. Cruising along the 14th Juli Glacier we could almost touch the clear blue patches of glacier ice that had calved off from the glacier. Along the bird cliff some of us spotted some Puffins and even an Ivory Gull. After a rewarding day outdoors, under true Arctic conditions, we had a recap where Ali explained the plans for tomorrow and Vide talked about the reindeers living in Svalbard. After spending much of the day outdoors, the dinner was very welcome.

Day 3: Pack Ice – Day 1

Pack Ice – Day 1
Date: 05.06.2019
Position: 79°51.9’N - 010°38.9’E
Wind: NW4
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: 0

Early in the morning on the 5th of June, 2019, we started sailing in through the outskirts of the pack ice, north west of Spitsbergen. Under a cover of low clouds and in light snow we kept heading north towards more dense sea ice with high hopes. The early birds started spotting seabirds and seals even before Ali made the wakeup call at 07.30, adding that we had a Bearded seal on an ice floe close to us. As a number of guests watched it from close distance, we got a huge surprise as a Minke whale came and stole the show and all the attention. When the whale had surfaced about ten times from various angles it decided to go about its own business and we did the same. As the day progressed, we navigated through more dense drift ice, and the animal sightings were numerous. Ivory gulls, Ringed/bearded/harp seals, and various guillemots were spotted in many directions, but one thing remained. Guests and expedition staff alike were growing somewhat impatient as the polar bears proved to be absent and elusive this day. Snowy weather and poor visibility did not make things easier, and after lunch it was decided that we would have some indoors education and hold a few different lectures about Svalbard. Roughly 2 minutes after everyone had gotten their coffee and found their favourite seats in the lounge the announcement came from the bridge. A Polar bear was in sight on an ice floe at our 1 o’clock. Finally! A few minutes later the bells rang again as a second bear came wandering, closer to the ship. After a 30 minute observation the ice closed in around us, and the snow showers made it hard to see anything, but our Captain and his bridge crew cleverly navigated the Plancius around the ice floes and put us in a close but comfortable distance from both bears and we watched in awe as one of them swam for 500 metres and then strolled away on the pack ice, indifferent to our presence. Another day at the office in the High Arctic!

Day 4: Pack Ice - Day 2

Pack Ice - Day 2
Date: 06.06.2019
Position: 79°55.5’N - 010°59.2’E
Wind: W4
Weather: Snowfall/overcast
Air Temperature: -1

After a good night sleep and sweet dreams about our first polar bear encounters on the pack-ice yesterday we woke up in the ice again. After breakfast we went outside to scout for polar bears again. It was snowing a bit, and we discovered a young ringed-seal on the ice. During the morning, Katja gave a detailed presentation about polar bears and Silke gave the same in German, while the expedition staff and crewmembers on the bridge kept scouting for wildlife in the ice. After a fabulous lunch buffet, we headed further east but were blocked by the ice. We headed back to the southwest again and set sail towards the Northern Islands of Svalbard. In the meantime, Vide gave his presentation about life in Longyearbyen in English and Fridrik a similar presentation about his time in Longyearbyen in German. Just before we got out of the ice, we had our third Polar bear encounter. Fridrik spotted the bear which was still pretty far away, but most of us could get a good view through the binoculars. After checking out the bear for some time the bear disappeared behind a big chunk of ice probably to take a nap and we could not see it anymore. During recap Ali talked about the activities of today and plans for next day, Tom told us about Petrus Plancius and Claudio talked about the North Pole expeditions of Amundsen and Nobile. After recap we had a refreshing BBQ.

Day 5: Signehamna and Lilliehöök

Signehamna and Lilliehöök
Date: 07.06.2019
Position: 79°14.3’N - 011°34.0’E
Wind: W4
Weather: Snowfall/overcast
Air Temperature: +1

We arrived in Lilliehöökfjorden close to our mornings landing site at Signehamna. Drawing the curtains back and staring through the portholes the Arctic stared back with fog and light snow in the air. This however did not deter us and as it is with the Arctic, we just have to take the weather for what it is. The conditions in Signehamna called for snowshoes and we all headed off for a walk, looking for something to see in the black and white landscape. Luckily, we caught a view of a handful of reindeer hanging out waiting for summer and a couple of seals relaxing on a section of fast ice, most likely Bearded seals. On the way we also caught a slight glimpse of the remains of two German weather stations from the Second World War. They were located a bit inland, out of view from the fjord in order to transmit important weather data from the Arctic. In the afternoon we move deeper into Lilliehöökfjorden and zodiacs were dropped into the water in order for us to do a zodiac cruise in front of the majestic Lilliehöök glacier. It was still foggy and snowing and when we arrive a few hundred meters away from the glacier it was barely visible. However, as time went on the large walls of ice become increasingly clearer and more visible. We saw the strong blue hues that are so often associated with glaciers and icebergs floating in the water. On one piece of ice a bearded seal decided to have an afternoon nap. We cruised along the 10 km long wall of ice, admiring it and enjoying the surroundings that started to reveal themselves as the fog started to lift. After a somewhat chilly cruise it was time to head back to the ship and as we get up the gangway, we are greeted with some hot chocolate to take away the chill. In the evening we also enjoy one of the benefits of traveling close to the glacier as the guides brought a piece of glacier ice on board. This made for some extra special drinks with a 1000-year-old piece of ice in the glass.

Day 6: St. Jonsfjorden and Poolepynten

St. Jonsfjorden and Poolepynten
Date: 07.06.2019
Position: 78°31.1’N - 012°51.0’E
Wind: WNW3
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +4

Our morning started with the sound of Ali's voice, gently waking us at 07:15. After visiting the breakfast buffet our adventure began on shore. We quickly gathered at the gangway and made our way into the Zodiac boats. Ashore, 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 landscape was dotted with the occasional birds and Purple saxifrage bloomed beneath our feet. After more than 3 hours we were back down at the landing beach where the tide had retreated somewhat but with lots of muscle power from the staff the boats were floated and we took our Zodiacs to go back to the ship… lunch was calling us! In the afternoon we landed at Poolepynten. We spent few hours walking along the coast line and looking the big colony of Walrus present in the area. The group was divided again in 2 small groups… German speakers and the other one English speakers in order to enjoy every story in a best way. At the end of the evening we went to the lounge to join another recap and several short lectures produced by the guides on board about walrus, foxes of Svalbard. At the end of the lecturer it was time to go to enjoy and taste the good dinner prepared from the Chef onboard. However, the dinner it was interrupted by a call from the bridge and we had a close and spectacular meeting with few Blue whales. After some pictures from the bridge it was the time to go back to the dinner room to enjoy the food and say goodbye at this beautiful day!

Day 7: Billefjorden and Skansbukta

Billefjorden and Skansbukta
Date: 08.06.2019
Position: 78°39.6’N - 016°45.4’E
Wind: S2
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: +3

Sunday morning. It was our last day on the expedition, and we all went to sleep with our heads full of impressions made by Blue whales and Walruses. Some of us woke up already at 05.00 by the lovely sight of sunshine through our windows, and we were already out on deck as Ali made the earliest wakeup call of the week. As early as is was, it brought lovely words of fantastic weather and large numbers of Beluga whales close to the ship. As most of us had made our way out on deck to see the whales, we also discovered a Polar Bear on the ice edge, about a mile from the ship. When the bear jumped in the water some of us feared it might swim away. Fortunately, we were proven wrong as the bear put on a 2 hour show along the ice edge as it jumped in and out of the water trying to catch any one of the 70 or more Beluga – a feat near impossible for a bear. This performance almost made us forget about the magic scenery and the mighty Nordenskiöld glacier that served as a backdrop. What a morning!! When our bear wandered away on the ice, we sailed towards the bay called Petuniabukta and had many Beluga and numerous seals swimming close to us. We even met a sleepy Bearded seal on an ice floe. As we entered Petunia bay Ali announced that yet another Polar Bear had been spotted, this time further in on the ice. We watched him in our binoculars for half an hour, and at the same time we saw both Ringed seals and an ivory gull on the ice. From here we sailed onwards, passing the Russian ghost town of Pyramiden, towards our afternoon landing in Skansbukta. We arrived our landing in sunshine and some of the wilder passengers even decided to take a “Polar Plunge”! The remainder of the evening was spent with a ship cruise through the majestic Isfjorden’s northern parts. We enjoyed Captain’s Cocktails with our Captain Andrei Zybin and toasted our voyage before watching a beautiful slide show that had been put together by Daniel. It was lovely to watch the last 7 days in 13 minutes and made us appreciate what an incredible journey we had been on. Late in the evening we sailed south to end our expedition in the harbour of Longyearbyen. Many new friends have been made and thousands of gigabytes of photos have been taken. What a week!!

Day 8: Back to Longyearbyen

Back to Longyearbyen
Date: 09.06.2019
Position: 78°13’N - 015°36’E
Wind: SE1
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: +3

After a lot of commotion during the night from to the people who were on the 2:30 am flight, we woke far too early, at anchor in Longyearbyen, sad to know that we would be leaving the ship soon. Our last breakfast on board was much appreciated, as we didn’t know where our next meal would be coming from. After seven days of pampering we were back at the port of Longyearbyen, and it was time to say goodbye to the crew, the expedition team, but also to new-won friends. On the dock, we found our luggage and boarded the bus. A last farewell from Expedition Leader Ali and we dispersed, each of us setting off on our travels and flights, sad to be leaving, but full with impressions of the wonderful landscapes and wildlife of the Arctic.