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PLA06-22, trip log, North Spitsbergen, In search of Polar Bear & Pack Ice

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Longyearbyen

Date: 29.06.2022
Position: 78°14.5’ N, 015°32.6’E
Wind: Calm
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +10

Many of the guest arrived at Longyearbyen on the day of embarkation. The morning started with drizzle and thick fog. We must wait for our return to Longyearbyen to see the spectacular views as you fly to and from Svalbard. In the afternoon, guests arrived on board to find their luggage which had already been distributed around the cabins. The final fresh supplies were loaded on board Plancius and we cast off our lines from the pier. Once we were underway the evening went by quickly as we were busy with the mandatory safety briefing, a lovely first dinner and of course cocktails with Captain Torry Sakkariassen. 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 which had now emerged from the low cloud and the sun was streaming down.

Day 2: Lilliehöökbreen and Signehamna

Lilliehöökbreen and Signehamna
Date: 30.06.2022
Position: 79°21.2’N 011°40.5’E
Wind: Variable 3
Weather: Drizzle
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 at the beginning of this adventure. Thirty minutes later Aleks announced breakfast. We were delighted with the fantastic buffet to fill ourselves with energy, so we were 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 first activity was a zodiac cruise at Lilliehöökfjord to see a beautiful glacier named Lilliehöökbreen. The morning was cloudy and cold, but the views were fantastic. These grey days help to catch the intense blue colour of the ice. We were lucky to have the opportunity to see the blue glacier ice from close up because there were some nice icebergs and growlers floating in the bay. Out on the zodiac cruise the cold winds reminded us of where we were - in the 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 for the next activity: a landing at Signehamna. Here we could see the historical site remains related to the presence of Germans who established a weather station that operated for a couple of years in the early 40s. The expedition team took us for a hike between hills, some of us also passing around the lake, to get to the remains of this interesting site with some dark episodes that involved a confrontation between Germans and Norwegians. 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!

Day 3: Svitjodbreen glacier in Fuglefjord and Alicehamna, Raudfjord with a Polar bear

Svitjodbreen glacier in Fuglefjord and Alicehamna, Raudfjord with a Polar bear
Date: 01.07.2022
Position: 79°45.7’N / 011°28.8’E
Wind: ESE 4/5
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +9

Good morning Plancius! Rise and shine! It was a sunny, beautiful morning. After the breakfast we were ready to explore Fuglefjorden: “Bird fjord”. The name is misleading, as there are actually no bird colonies in Fuglefjord. We went for a zodiac cruise along Svitjodbreen glacier. The panoramic view of the glacier front was breath taking with the occasional calving taking place. We were very lucky to spot a male and female of King Eider duck. After the zodiac cruise our Expedition Leader (EL) made the decision to land on a rocky beach and to hike up the glacier, which turned out to be an amazing experience. After lunch, plan A was to go to Fuglesongen island but due to strong wind gusting up to 35 knots we had to come up with a plan B. So, plan B was to look for a shelter deeper in Raudfjorden at a bay called Hamiltonbukta. In the meantime, one of ABs who was on watch on the bridge, spotted a Polar bear on Alicehamna, the other side of the fjord from Hamiltonbukta. As on a real expedition we were faced with an unpredictable situation and our EL came with a plan C: to go for a ships cruise along the shore and observe the bear behaviour. Soon the plan was elaborated and the call was made to continue watching a polar bear from the zodiacs, but by the time we approached the shore at Alicehamna, the bear has gone. We spent a good hour in our zodiacs scouting for the Polar bear, but without success. In the end we came back to the ship for cup of hot tea during the evening recap and plans for tomorrow. After a la Carte dinner, soon we were approaching Moffen island. Moffen is an unusual little island, only four or five square kilometres in area. Moffen is home to one of the best-known Walrus haulout sites in Svalbard. It was a bit foggy and rainy around the island, but wildlife lovers enjoyed a view from the outer deck of the walrus colony on the Island and the most passionate ones were blessed to spot a rare Sabine’s gulls, flying above the walruses. The Sabine’s gull is a rather small gull. It is the only gull in Svalbard with a black head. The flight of the Sabine’s gull is very elegant. It was perfect way to end the day. Good night Plancius. Tomorrow will be another day full of new discoveries.

Day 4: Hike at Palanderbukta and afternoon zodiac cruise at Alkefjellet

Hike at Palanderbukta and afternoon zodiac cruise at Alkefjellet
Date: 02.07.2022
Position: 79°34.2’N / 020°40.8’E
Wind: S 2
Weather: Partly Cloudy
Air Temperature: +7

Good morning, good morning! And what a beautiful morning it was! Just before breakfast we spotted a seal next to the ship, a good start of the day. We then did a landing and kayaking at Palanderbukta, where we had the option for a longer, fast-paced walk, or a shorter walk along the ridge behind the beach. Both hikes took us across a few ancient beaches, also known as ‘raised beaches’, which were formed by uplift of the land following the retreat of the glaciers in the last millennia. This allowed us to find shells above the current seashore, that were thousands of years old! We also found evidence of freezing and thawing of the groundwater in the form of spectacular stone rings! Because finer sediment contains more groundwater than in between the bigger rocks, the expanding and contracting of the water during the freezing and thawing creates a lateral movement of the bigger rocks. Eventually the bigger rocks will form beautiful circles, with the finer sediment in the middle. Some flowers managed to manifest themselves on this rocky environment, where only the hardiest plants can grow. We saw stunning Svalbard Poppy’s, Purple Saxifrage, Whitlow-grass and Tufted Saxifrage. The kayakers did a small walk on the beach up to the first ridge before or after swapping with the team in the water. The water was very calm and acted like a mirror, which gave the kayakers a beautiful, surreal experience. After all that walking and exploring, we were definitely ready for lunch, which was delicious as usual. On the way over to our next location, the sky was orange, the water was calm and mirror-like and icebergs were floating all around us… It was stunning! The afternoon was like a scene from the movie ‘Birds’ by Hitchcock. We did a zodiac cruise along the steep cliffs of Alkefjellet, or Guillemot Mountain, where the guillemots nest and swarm in the air. The cliffs were formed by a horizontal intrusion of dolerite into a layer of limestone, giving the cliffs a black colour with light layers underneath and above it. These cliffs have tiny little ledges, which are perfect for the ca. 60.000 breeding pairs of Guillemots to nest on, as they are difficult to reach by predators such as the Arctic Fox. Speaking of the Arctic Fox, we saw three of them right underneath the cliffs! One even gave us a nice show on the snow! What an amazing and special appearance to finish of an incredible day!

Day 5: Zodiac cruise at the Seven Islands (Sjuøyne) and sailing to the pack ice

Zodiac cruise at the Seven Islands (Sjuøyne) and sailing to the pack ice
Date: 03.07.2022
Position: 80°56.5’N / 020°01.6’E
Wind: NE 3
Weather: Overcast / Fog
Air Temperature: +3

Plancius sailed during the whole night and was heading North toward the small archipelago of Sjuøyne or commonly named Seven Islands. We reached the latitude of 80°20.5’N making us closer to the North Pole than the arctic circle. We were woken up by the smooth voice of Pablo, our Expedition Leader, at 6:30 sharp. We all appreciated the early morning breakfast in the Lounge before jumping in the Zodiacs at 7 o’clock. The barren and desolate landscape makes the atmosphere of this place quite special. All the zodiacs paired up and left in different directions to explore this mysterious archipelago. Some of the Zodiacs had the chance to see some Common Eiders, an Arctic Skua fighting with a Kittiwake and an Ivory Gull. Others were able to see some impressive ice bergs with an arch. And some had the experience of being surrounded by the fog in the return journey towards the ship. Soon after our arrival on board, our Hotel Manager and the galley team prepared some sandwiches to fill the hungry stomachs after this chilly zodiac exploration cruise on this Northernmost archipelago of Svalbard. At around 10 o’clock, the ship was heading North, the objective being to reach the sea ice. This is a unique environment and ecosystem that makes the arctic so iconic. Elodie gave us a lecture about the formation, evolution and climatic issues of arctic sea ice. We learnt that sea ice is a not a dead zone but a very important ecosystem where everything about wildlife is connected. Although conditions are harsh, life thrives above, below, and within sea ice. Some species depend entirely on the presence of sea ice to survive. Seals and walrus give birth and nurse their pups on the ice, and they look for food near the ice edge and under the ice. Sea ice is also a hunting and breeding ground for polar bears, and a foraging ground for whales. After 4 hours of sailing, we finally reached the sea ice and its loose ice floes of first-year ice. The cloudy sky gave a unique atmosphere to the place. We were all on the outside decks, living this magical moment in our life, taking pictures, looking in our binoculars to find wildlife. We had the chance to observe dozens of harp seals swimming, a bearded seal lying on an ice floe and a minke whale. In the evening, we had the surprised polar BBQ prepared and served by the galley and dining room teams on the aft deck. It was cold but it is definitely not every day that we can eat a sausage next to the arctic pack ice! The dancefloor was busy until very late! It was another amazing day in the high arctic!

Day 6: Smeerenburg and Madalenefjord landings

Smeerenburg and Madalenefjord landings
Date: 04.07.2022
Position: 79°43.7’N / 011°01.9’E
Wind: N 5
Weather: 79°43.7’N / 011°01.9’E
Air Temperature: +8

After breakfast we made a landing at this wonderful place to walk along the beach to visit the Walrus on the sand. We didn’t have to wait long as the Walrus were play fighting in the sea. A big bull checked us out whilst we stood in a line enjoying the sights and smells walrus offer. On the beach Marcel explained the story behind some of the historical artifacts scattered over the spit of sand. He showed us the blubber pots and explained how the Dutch Whalers lived on this land in the 17th and 18th Century and had us imagine how it would be to live and work in this desolate place in those times. Too soon it was time to return to the ship for lunch. Following our lunch, the team took us to this beautiful location, Magdalenefjord, where we walked around the beach and moss dodging the nesting Terns and Skuas amongst the rocks. We saw another site where whaling took place, and we could see in the distance the graves of these intrepid men who are buried here. After seeing the hut on the shoreline and the lake with its stunning reflections it was time to return to the ship to head south and allow another vessel to come into the bay. We waved goodbye to the people enjoying the afternoon sat on the aft deck of their vessel.

Day 7: Zodiac cruse at Esmarkbreen glacier in Ymerbukta and landing at Alkhornet

Zodiac cruse at Esmarkbreen glacier in Ymerbukta and landing at Alkhornet
Date: 05.07.2022
Position: 78°17.8’N / 013°56.6’E
Wind: Calm
Weather: Raining
Air Temperature: +7

This morning started with some light rain and a very thick layer of fog around the ship. The sea was calm, no wind and it was quiet outside. The Expedition Leader decided to wait until the sun burnt off the fog and after that we started a zodiac cruise close to the Esmarkbreen glacier front. Kayakers where outside too, performing the last outing of the trip and we saw them approaching the same area. Those on the water were able to have the chance to be present during a calving at a safe distance. Some of us stayed on board for the morning and enjoyed a talk from Beth on the Arctic Ocean in the warmth of Plancius’ lounge. In the afternoon we head to Alkhornet, a place with a great Kittiwake colony, we had the chance to see many Reindeer feeding in the surroundings with their young, we visited the base of the pillars where Beth showed us the marble and some quartzite which together form the incredible towering rock face here. And finally, the brave amongst us, did the Polar plunge! What an amazing way to say goodbye to this Arctic voyage full of sightings of wildlife and unique landscapes.

Day 8: Arrival back into Longyearbyen

Arrival back into Longyearbyen
Date: 06.07.2022
Position: 78°14.4’ N 015°37.7’E
Wind: E 4
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +4

Early this morning, we arrive in Longyearbyen. While we enjoyed a last breakfast on board, our suitcases are taken off the ship and to the harbour using the zodiacs. The onward journeys after disembarkation from Plancius was going to be somewhat different to usual due to the complication around cancelled flights. Although this was challenging news for many to come back to, the overall satisfaction after a great trip certainly dominated the atmosphere on board. It is a sad moment to disembark from the Plancius, which has been a comfortable and cosy home during this unforgettable journey. We have shared many unique moments, seen a range of rarely sighted wildlife, and made new friends. Loaded with fond memories we now must head to our onward journeys.


Tripcode: PLA06-22
Dates: 29 Jun - 6 Jul, 2022
Duration: 7 nights
Ship: m/v Plancius
Embark: Longyearbyen
Disembark: Longyearbyen

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