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PLA11-22, trip log, Around Spitsbergen - Kvitoya, In the realm of Polar Bear & Ice

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Longyearbyen

Date: 11.08.2022
Position: 76.14 6N, 014.56.5E
Wind: NW 3
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +11

In the afternoon passengers started to arrive at what can truly be called “an authentic site”: the Longyearbyen coal harbour. It is about to be closed as coal mining at Svalbard’s only surviving mine – supplying the local power plant - will cease in a few years’ time, the coal to be replaced by a more environmentally- friendly fuel. Once on board the passengers started to get acquainted with the ship and were soon invited to a general introduction. A safety briefing was followed by an “abandon-ship” exercise: the alarm signal sounded, we took our life belts up to the lounge and inspected the lifeboats. After a welcome speech by our captain Yevgeni we all raised a toast to a good cruise. Then it was time to enjoy the dinner prepared by the chef and his team. Most of us retired early after a long day’s travelling, but some hardy passengers enjoyed the sight of glaciers at Prins Karl’s Forland well into the night.

Day 2: Raudfjord - Alicehamna & Buchananhalvøya

Raudfjord - Alicehamna & Buchananhalvøya
Date: 12.08.2022
Position: 79.48.4, N,010.53.3E
Wind: N6
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +6

During the night Plancius sailed from Isfjorden along Prins Karls Forland, on Svalbard’s west coast, into Raudfjorden, the westernmost fjord on the north coast of the island of Spitsbergen. In the morning we were given the compulsory zodiac and the Polar-Bear safety briefing. We were now prepared for our first landing at Alicehamna. An old trapper’s hut, but still equipped for emergency use, was inspected. The idea of spending a winter there did not exactly appeal to everyone… After landing the group was divided into long walkers, medium walkers and a group that stayed near the landing site. It was a preparation for much longer walks in the afternoon. During the walks the guides gave talks on various subjects of interest. The afternoon found us slight deeper into the fjord at Buchananhalvøya (“halvøya” meaning peninsula) where the long walkers set off for a long walk, soon followed by two groups of medium hikers. Going up, at times passing rock fields, we were rewarded by excellent views of a lake and of Ayerfjorden. Later in the afternoon the Sun managed to pierce through the clouds, which produced splendid light on the glaciers.

Day 3: Cruising the pack ice

Cruising the pack ice
Date: 13.08.2022
Position: 81.25.0N, 008.26.8E
Wind: ENE 2-3
Weather: Fog
Air Temperature: +5

At 0645, as predicted, we entered the pack ice. Some passengers were still having breakfast when at 0845 the first Polar bear was reported. The Polar Bear stayed well off the ship, but with binoculars and telephoto lenses we got good views. Later that morning another Polar Bear appeared but much farther away. An occasional Seal popped up its head from the water but otherwise remained elusive. In the afternoon Chloé gave a lecture on Polar Bears in which she told us about the way of life of these polar wanderers. Another Polar Bear presented itself at a very long distance at 17.00 hrs. moving away from the ship Having completed our cruise through the pack ice we headed South at 17.45 hrs. The Farthest North we reached was 081’48.3”N, 009’45.032”E. This was celebrated by Aleks with apple juice and whiskey on the aft deck.

Day 4: Phippsøya and Karl XII

Phippsøya and Karl XII
Date: 14.08.2022
Position: 80.42.3N, 020.19.0E
Wind: NW 2-3
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +10

Early in the morning four expedition crew went to scout for Polar Bears at Phippsøya, our next destination. Extensive scouting showed that it was safe to land. Phippsøya is one of the Sjuøyane, the Seven islands to the north of Svalbard. It was named after John Phipps, the leader of the British Royal Navy expedition that discovered the islands in 1773. Long hikers landed at Isflaktbukta, a small bay at Phippsøya first, followed by medium and leisurely hikers, who each set off on their respective walks. A very small hut on the beach was inspected from the outside only as it was thoroughly locked and protected against Polar Bears. Sunshine lit up the islands, which are the product of continental uplift after the disappearance of the glaciers. The island still rises about 1 centimetre per year. The raised beaches we saw are evidence of this process, which was explained by the guides. Arctic Skuas flew around but left us alone as were not approaching their nest. Having returned, and after a good lunch, Plancius headed for Karl XII-øya, a longish, narrow island consisting of distinctive black rock. The Kongsberget (King’s Mountain, 105 metres) is a distinctive feature. Our plan was to make a zodiac cruise around the island, but for safety reasons – too high a swell- the cruise was called off: boarding the zodiacs and getting on the ship again, plus a good chance of getting very wet at sea were the reasons. A most enjoyable happy hour, however, quickly made us forget this.

Day 5: Kvitøya and Isispynten

Kvitøya and Isispynten
Date: 15.08.2022
Position: 80.05.4N, 031.20.6E
Wind: ENE 3
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +4

A dense fog had settled over Kvitøya (White Island) when we arrived there at 7 in the morning. The cruise was near Andreneset, the site where the unfortunate Andre expedition met its end after their balloon crashed on their way to the North Pole in 1897. Their remains, including logbooks and films, were found by a Norwegian expedition in 1930. Despite the fog, we boarded the zodiacs, and sailed off, staying closely together. In an at times apocalyptic scene, we sailed towards the Walrus colonies on the rocks to the North of Kvitøya. We were met by groups of up to 20 Walrus swimming out to forage for their favourite meal consisting of clamshells and mussels. In the fog their white-yellowish teeth made them clearly visible. Their sounds could be heard. When we were moving into a small bay the sun finally broke through the fog revealing the rocks with Walrus and their swimming companions in splendid sunlight. Photographers “had a go” at the Walrus once again. Ashore a Polar Bear was spotted, perhaps on the prowl for Walrus, but too far inland to be seen clearly. Plancius had disappeared in the fog when we sailed towards Kvitøya, but now gradually appeared like a magic ship through the lifting fog. At the same time the lower part of Kvitøya’s distinctive ice dome revealed itself. The ice dome rises to some 400 metres. There are three places on this 700 square-kilometre large island where one can land, weather and Polar Bears, of course, permitting. Once back on Plancius coffee quickly restored our temperature. A second Polar Bear was seen far inland. Later in the afternoon we had a zodiac cruise at Isispynten: a smooth sea and excellent weather made for a very nice trip. Isispynten is new on the map: as the glaciers are retreating the moraines stand out like new islands. A cruise was made between this new “land” and the glacier, with the sun producing beautiful light on Austfonna, the third largest ice shield in the world. It covers some 8,500 square kilometres.

Day 6: Vibebukta and Torrellneset

Vibebukta and Torrellneset
Date: 16.08.2022
Position: 79.21.9N, 022.26.2E
Wind: WSW 4
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +7

The vast emptiness of Vibebukta, the goal of this Tuesday morning’s landing, faced us on waking up. Vibebukta borders a large polar desert, surrounded by the remains of the glaciers of Nordaustlandet. There is very little precipitation. The only water comes from some small rivulets running towards the sea from the hills. This is where some moss grows. Otherwise, the odd depression where water collects may allow sparse vegetation. Inland, old whale bones provide nutrition for some vegetation. These whale bones were once washed up on the shore, but continental uplift, the raised beaches, have put these bones far inland. On arriving ashore our attention was drawn by the numerous fossils on the beach as well as inland. These are of Jurassic origin. The harsh climate could be deduced from the countless shattered stones: any crack, no matter how small, is penetrated by water. Water expands when freezing and, in the end, it will reduce any kind of stone to rubble. The usual groups set off, the long hikers walking as far as the hills inland. Seen from the beach the land seemed to swallow up the walkers. Near one of the hills, they found a very well mummified Polar Bear, partly buried, its skin brownish caused by water running over the skin, and its teeth still remarkably intact. In the afternoon we visited Torellneset. Two shifts of 50 passengers each walked carefully and very disciplined towards the group of Walrus. As the wind was not coming from the direction of the Walrus, we were spared the smells emanating from this pile of blubber.

Day 7: Sundneset and Kapp Lee

Sundneset and Kapp Lee
Date: 17.08.2022
Position: 78.12.2N, 021.06.7E
Wind: NW 4
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +7

Once again, a planned landing had to be called off owing to fog. A Polar Bear was spotted ashore, but quite far off. Plancius sailed on down Freemansundet. After the fog had lifted, we made a zodiac cruise along the dolorite rocks, spotting the odd Reindeer and finally a mother Polar Bear and her 18- months old young, which, though from a distance, we managed to observe and photograph. In the afternoon a landing was made at Kapp Lee. Remains of Reindeer, Polar Bears and Walrus were seen everywhere. The walks were for the hardy ones as rain and wind “waterblasted “us incessantly. Three Reindeer (or were they Raindeer?) grazed on at ease while cameras came out of their protective covers. A small bay had purple Sandpipers and some very old remains of Whales. Down by the beach the Walrus did not seem to be bothered by the weather. The three huts, no longer occupied by hunters and trappers, made for some scenic photography. One of the huts was of a prefab type. Quite wet and chilled to the bone we returned to ship.

Day 8: Burgerbukta & Gåshamna

Burgerbukta & Gåshamna
Date: 18.08.2022
Position: 76.48.9N, 015.12.5E
Wind: SSW5
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +8

The plan was to explore Vestre Burgerbukta by zodiac, up to Paierlbreen. A number of zodiacs with passengers were launched, but a dense fog descended in the fjord and wind increased to 28 knots. The decision was made to abort the cruise. The rest of the morning we enjoyed the beautiful Hornsund, its mountains and the occasional rainbow. Splendid light lit up the glaciers, with dark clouds as a background. We passed Gnålodden, beneath Sofiakammen, where in the 1930s Wanny Wolstad, Norway’s most famous female trapper, wintered as a hunter, a few seasons even with her children. After lunch we went ashore at Gåshamna. Different groups set out to the remains of Russian Pomor stations and British Whale stations. Pomors were Russian hunters from the area around the White Sea, going to Svalbard in the 17th and 18th century. They took from nature what nature could yield, thus not extinguishing natural resources. The British whaling stations were visited: numerous whale bones are testimony to their hunting activities. Moss around the whale bones grows on nutrients, even after so many years, being released from the bones. Remains of Konstantinovka were visited, one of the many sites used for the multinational Arc-de-Meridian Expedition (1899-1902), a geodetic survey which proved that the Earth is actually not a perfect ball, but slightly flattened at the Poles. Mother Nature was playing tricks with us again: while on the beach wind increased to 48 knots and combined with the odd shower made us feel like real explorers. In the evening we enjoyed the indoor BBQ. After a while dancing and a polonaise “erupted” in the dining room: testimony of an excellent atmosphere!

Day 9: Tempelfjord and Bjornahamna

Tempelfjord and Bjornahamna
Date: 19.08.2022
Position: 78.21.4N, 016.10.2E
Wind: SW5
Weather: Overcast

After a rather bumpy night with a SW gale 6/7 we arrived in Sassenfjorden. Our plan for this morning was to land at Villa Fredheim, once home of the famous Norwegian hunter Hilmar Nøis. Together with his wife he overwintered here for 38 years until he retired in 1963. However, as things go here up North, man does the planning and nature decides. Ali and the team headed ashore to prepare for the landing but as they got towards the beach, they encountered heavy swells and waves crashing on the shore which would have made transfer to the beach impossible and unsafe, so the landing had to be called off. Instead, we sailed up to Tunabreen and Von Postbreen, getting good views of these glaciers that spill down into the fjord. Thankfully, in the afternoon we managed to find some shelter from the wind and swell in the bay of Bjornahamna. The Captain, once again took us close to a great anchorage and we had only a short ride to shore where we landed by some huts,one a hut once owned by the trapper Hilmar Nøis another hut owned by the Longyearbyen skidoo club. Andreas led the long hikers up the valley into the mountains where conditions were steep and rocky underfoot and very wet and windy. They battled bravely for a while to see how far up they could go but were beaten back in the end by the wind. The medium hiking groups made it to a small cairn and had lovely views over the fjord and the leisurely walkers explored the shore and the huts in the area. Once again it was the weather that was one of the main features of the landing, but we still enjoyed our last visit on shore and we even had 4 brave souls wanting to get colder and wetter by taking a ‘Polar Plunge’. They were very brave souls indeed! Back on board we dried out and warmed up and it was time to meet in the Lounge for Captain’s Cocktails, a chance to meet with our Captain once again and toast the success of our voyage. It has been a voyage that took us far north into the pack ice and far to the east to the island of Kvitøya. We have seen polar bears, walrus and reindeer and experienced some of the worst weather that Svalbard had to offer in August, but we have come through it all with a smile and have some very happy memories of our trip! Cheers everyone! We came alongside the cold pier at 2200 and some guests left just after midnight to head for their flights home.

Day 10: Arrival back into Longyearbyen

Arrival back into Longyearbyen
Date: 20.08.2022
Position: 78°13.8’ N 015°36.2’E

We had our final wake-up call from Ali and, after breakfast with our luggage waiting for us on the pier and the buses arriving it was time to say goodbye to The Little Blue Ship Plancius and to the staff and crew that have looked after us so well for the last 9 days. It has been a fantastic voyage! On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions and all the staff and crew on board we would to like to thank you for travelling with us and we hope to see you on board again sometime in the future.


Tripcode: PLA11-22
Dates: 11 Aug - 20 Aug, 2022
Duration: 9 nights
Ship: m/v Plancius
Embark: Longyearbyen
Disembark: Longyearbyen

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