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PLA06-19, trip log, North Spitsbergen, In search of Polar Bear & Pack Ice

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Embarkation in Longyearbyen

Embarkation in Longyearbyen
Date: 10.06.2019
Position: 78°13’N - 015°36’E
Wind: NW3
Weather: P.Cloudy
Air Temperature: +6

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 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 Andrei Zybin 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 ticket 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 temped 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: Adolfbukta and Ekmanfjorden

Adolfbukta and Ekmanfjorden
Date: 11.06.2019
Position: 78°30.6’N - 016°46.7’E
Wind: calm
Weather: P.cloudy
Air Temperature: +2

This sunny morning, we arrived early in Billefjorden and the rumours there had been a bear spotted in front of the Nordenskiöld glacier seemed to be true. When we arrived there we got a very early wake-up call and went al to the foredeck to view the amazing sight of a bear on the ice with Belugas swimming by. The bear decided to go for a swim, and we did had to wait for the bear to get back on land again to not disturb or scare her. When she eventually went back on the ice-flow, we got picked up by the zodiacs and tried to get closer. The bear decided to walk further onto the ice so we went to hang out with the Beluga’s for a while instead. When the zodiac drivers turned off their engines, we could hear the wonderful singing and splashing sounds of the Beluga’s. After a while the Bear came back to the edge of the ice again and we could get a real good look. He even walked along the coast with us for a while and did some “tricks”, like sitting on his behind. After a wonderful lunch-buffet we sailed towards Ekmanfjorden in the afternoon where we enjoyed the scenic landscapes in the presence of a wide plumage of birds including the Sabine’s Gull and illusive Polar bear which disappeared very quickly behind an old moraine. We had some wonderful hot chocolate on the Sun deck which made our first day in the Arctic even more unforgettable. During recap, Micha told us all about Polar bears and the plans for tomorrow. Andrey help a short presentation about Ivory gulls, the small feathered companion of Polar bears.

Day 3: Ny London and 14th Julibukta

Ny London and 14th Julibukta
Date: 12.06.2019
Position: 79°07.5’N - 011°50.2’E
Wind: SE2
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: +2

This morning we went to the 14th Julibukta in Krossfjord. In 1906 Duke Albert of Monaco started his oceanography expeditions and named some places in this area. The fjord we visited was named in honour of the French National Day. We had a split landing so everybody could enjoy the calm and still weather. We did a zodiac cruise along the bird-cliff and visited the ‘hanging gardens the 14th Juli glacier. Under the watchful eye of our expedition staff we could walk along the beach towards the bird cliff (with mostly nesting kittiwakes) and enjoy the moss, the purple saxifrage, the reindeer and even and even a snow goose. Cruising with the zodiacs along the rocky coast we could see guillemots, Arctic terns and some of us spotted some Puffins. We also saw bearded seal, common Eider ducks and even King Eider. After a rewarding lunch we landed at Ny-London on Blomstrandhalvøya in Kongsfjord. This used to be a mining camp of the Northern Exploration Company led by Ernest Mansfield. Between 1906-19011 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. A typical Arctic condition known as permafrost was responsible for the bad quality of the marble. The camp was built in the early 20th century for 70 people and nowadays we can 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, ptarmigan, arctic terns barnacle geese, long tailed ducks, long tailed skuas and some of us even saw an Arctic fox. After a rewarding day outdoors, under true Arctic conditions, we had a recap where Michael announced that tomorrow, we would go to the ice edge in order to try to find more wildlife and in particular polar bears! In the recap Andrey talked about the ivory gull and Tom explained the geology and rocks in Svalbard.

Day 4: Pack Ice – Day 1

Pack Ice – Day 1
Date: 13.06.2019
Position: 79°56.2’N - 011°22.8’E
Wind: SW8
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: +1

After a night sailing, we woke up this morning close to the pack-ice. The officers on the bridge did an excellent job in keeping Plancius in the wind so we did not wake up too early. While our search for pack-ice bears started wind conditions were reaching up to 35 knots and the ship was moving a bit. The expedition staff took turns on the bridge scouting for wildlife, while two lectures were given this morning one about Polar-Bears in German by Sandra and one about the 17th century Dutch explorer who first discovered and mapped Spitsbergen, Willem Barents. In the footprints of Willem Barents, we just made it up to 80N, before we were halted by the sea-ice. After a tasty lunch we continued our search for polar bears in the pack-ice. Unfortunately, the weather conditions were not favourable, hard winds had pushed the pack-ice together leaving no leads for Plancius to go into the ice. After hearing over the radio other ships in the pack-ice also had hardly any wildlife, we decided to try our luck in Smeerenburgfjord. We had heard rumours that a ship had spotted a bear this morning in the vicinity. Micha discussed the plans for tomorrow during recap and Claudio had a nice presentation about the Arctic explorers Nobile and Amundsen in Ny-Alesund. Unfortunately, Andrey’s recap about anther North Pole adventurer Andree was cut short by a message over the PA system that a bear had been spotted in the fjord. Upon arrival we discovered a number of small ships near the shore. And yes there he (or she) was lying relaxed in the snow near the shore, our third polar bear on this trip. Unfortunately, the Governer who also had his ship the Polarsyssel present in the fjord decided it was getting to crowded around the bear and directed the other vessels away from the bear. This was a clear sign we were at the moment not allowed to lower zodiacs and approach the bear closer. Although it was hard to photograph, most of us did have had a good view of the bear relaxing through their binoculars or the telescope on deck. We had a delayed dinner and after that enjoyed our time in the lounge.

Day 5: Smeerenburgfjorden and Magdalenefjorden

Smeerenburgfjorden and Magdalenefjorden
Date: 14.06.2019
Position: 79°36.8’N - 010°47.4’E
Wind: S2-4
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: +5

We woke up in Smeerenburgfjorden with some clouds and a little bit of sun. We sailed through Sorgattet, there were supposed to be nice steep fjords on both sides in this narrow street, but the clouds where very low. We could not see a lot of the nice pointy mountains around us. But we saw a lot of walruses on the ice, so we went into the zodiacs. We drove around Moseoya island and had plenty of time to make pictures of the walruses from all different angles. We not only saw a lot of walruses but also nice ice formations. We cruised through those pieces of ice. We went on the ship after this beautiful zodiac cruise, but when everybody was on the ship a polar bear was spotted ashore. Lunch can wait and a second zodiac cruise was arranged in no time. The polar bear was walking along the shore of Bjornhamna to let her see from her best sight. When she walked into the reserve of Bjornhamna we went back to the ship to respect the rules of the reserve and respect the polar bear. Lunch, a little bit later than normal, but it was totally worth it. What a morning! During the lunch we sailed to Magdalenefjorden. A spectacular fjord with amazing views. The clouds were gone and we could see the the pointy mountains as well as glaciers squeezing between the peaks around us. We wanted to see the glacier closely, so the zodiacs were lounged into the water again. The huge glacier front of the Waggonwaybreen was impressive, especially with a walrus in front of it. We also drove along the historical whalers’ graveyard Gravneset. Whalers are not seaman, so no seaman grave. At the and we drove with the zodiacs to Gullybukta where the walruses had found a nice beach to lay on. This day could not have been better, but there was even more… There was a BBQ waiting for us with music and dancing afterwards with the scenic view of Magdalenefjorden in the back.

Day 6: Signehamna and Tinayrebukta

Signehamna and Tinayrebukta
Date: 15.06.2019
Position: 79°16.3’N - 011°34.1’E
Wind: SW3
Weather: cloudy
Air Temperature: +5

Early in the morning 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 us off for a long 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 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 Krossfjorden and zodiacs were dropped into the water in order for us to do a new landing and see the beautiful area in the fjord. We landed in front of the majestic Tinayrebreen glacier. It was a beautiful sunny day and when the expedition guides arrived at the landing site they spent more time than usual scouting the area because were present a lot of tracks of polar bear… probably a female with two cubs. After the check we spent a few hours looking for tracks, flowers and the huge and unusual glacier with icebergs floating in the water in front of us. Around 5pm it was time to head back to the ship and as we get up the gangway but just few minutes before doing that, we spotted some whales around the ship. We decided to move on Plancius and go scouting together to see them…after a coffee and a quick rest we spotted again some whales close to the ship and we enjoyed the time. Then it was the time for our recap time with some info for the next day/s and some good short lectures from Andrey about Salomon Andre Swedish explorer and from Flo about Crossfjord Signehamna and about Clean up Svalbard (for Sarah). We had time to enjoy the nature surround the ship a bit before going down for the dinner where we enjoyed the three-course meal served by head chef Khabir.

Day 7: Skansbukta and Billefjorden

Skansbukta and Billefjorden
Date: 16.06.2019
Position: 78°30.2’N - 016°04.6’E
Wind: W5-6
Weather: sunny
Air Temperature: +5

Our last day of the expedition on the Plancius. We got our wakeup call from our expedition leader Misha in Isfjorden. We sailed further into Isfjorden to get to the beautiful Billefjorden again to spot some more wildlife and enjoy the great view. We got ashore at a beach in Skansbukta. Named after the neighbouring mountain Skansen, from the Norwegian word of sloping surface, which describes the shape of the wide plateau that tops the mountain. We walked up the hill to have even a better view of the fjord, but we looked thoroughly for all the nice little flowers. There was plenty of purple Saxifrage, but even if you were lucky you could find an Orchid. We saw also a lot of nice birds like flocks of Purple Sandpiper, colony of the Northern Fulmar and a first timer the Ringed Plover. At the end of the beach there was a reindeer grazing and came pretty near. All the hiking up the hill and along the beach made us warm up a bit, so the wilder passengers decided to have a “Polar Plunge”. A refreshing dive in the nice and cold arctic waters of Billefjorden. After a warm shower we enjoyed the lunch and cruised through Billefjorden in search for the Polar bear. We were already lucky this week with all the wildlife, but also today. A Polar bear showed up along shore, so we could really say goodbye to the bear. 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 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… in the afternoon we had our last zodiac cruise and a beautiful last polar bear encounter… GOD WAY TO FINISH THE TRIP!!!

Day 8: Back to Longyearbyen

Back to Longyearbyen
Date: 17.06.2019
Air Temperature: +5

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. Total distance sailed on our voyage: Nautical miles, 685 nm | Kilometres, 1268 km On behalf of everyone on board we thank you for travelling with us and wish you a safe journey home.