Wednesday, 31 July 2013

A Spectacular Last Day!

At approximately 08:00 we arrived at the impressive bird cliffs of Alkehornet. High above us Kittiwakes wheeled about the horn shaped massif.  The strident calls of thousands of seabirds filled the air. The low cloud cover and grey sky lent a somber air to the imposing mountain scape.  In short order the Expedition Team had dispersed over an immense landing site, making sure there weren't any lurking bears about.
By 08:30 the first boat groups were called ashore.  A large group of Reindeer grazed quietly on the lush vegetation for which Alkehornet is known.  It was difficult to get an accurate count but there were approximately 100 animals in the herd.  This population of reindeer is not hunted and in addition, the site is very well visited, consequently the reindeer have become habituated to people.  On more than one occasion an astonished passenger had a Reindeer approach within three or four metres as it quietly nibbled the green grass.
Lots of folks got to see an energetic Arctic fox scurrying about the site. 
Arctic Skuas and Glaucous Gulls were actively predating upon the chicks of Black Guillemot as they plunged from their nests.  The Glaucous Gulls were also seen preying on Little Auks, while the Arctic Fox was seen taking a Skua chick.
We were free to go exploring over a huge green plain and for those of us that craved more exercise, we could walk up a steep slope where there was a great overview of the entire area.
Our Kayakers at Skansebukta

Around 13:30 everyone was back on board and we set a course for Alkehornet.  During the afternoon the crew ran a safety drill.  It was comforting to know that the crew on this ship is very well rehearsed for emergencies.  
At 15:00 we all met in the observation lunge for the Captain's farewell and cocktail.  The crew, officers and Expedition Team sang a touching farewell song after the Captain's speech.
At 17:00 we arrived at Skansebukta.  We didn't think it possible but the landscape here is even more impressive than at Alkehornet.  The landscape is sort of Grand Canyon-ish and reminds one of John Ford's grand westerns. One could easily imagine John Wayne herding some long horns below the cliffs. 
Lots of people opted to trek up to a very high waterfall where they got a lofty view from a Fulmar's perspective.  The cliff face was riddled with Fulmar nests.  Puffins constantly whirred by with their little wings flapping at a furious 400 bpm.  
On the way back to the ship we were treated to a short Polar Cirkel boat ride to where we had excellent views of the Puffins.  
The last of us returned to the ship shortly after 21:00.  It had been a very long but a very rewarding final day on our Arctic Adventure.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Ytre Norskøya and Magdalenefjorden

The first landing of two today on the island Ytre Norskøya was beautiful. Perfectly calm weather made landing easy, and a “red carpet” aided everyone over the rocks, green with slick algae. A walk along the coast towards the lookout point took people past several old graves that, through a process of freezing and thawing of the ground, have pushed the coffins to the surface. Nesting Arctic Terns, protective of their eggs, flew down and nipped at guest’s heads while walking past sites that whalers in the mid 1600’s used to boil down blubber for oil. Clambering up the rocks, the ornithologist on board was eagerly pointing out nesting Guillemots, Little Auks, and Glaucous Gulls. Down on the water an old whaler lookout offered splendid views of the surrounding fjords.

This afternoons landing on Magdalena Fjord was beautiful as well, the large glacier rose up into the mountains, whose tops hid in the fog and clouds. This area was an important whaling station, in fact, the first place where whaling was carried out on a large scale. The sites at which large copper pots were set up to cook blubber are still visible on the beach. On the hill behind the cooking sites is another cemetery, with the only chain in Svalbard surrounding it! The hikers were taken on a nice walk to Gullybreen. The landing ended with the opportunity to go swimming in arctic waters which several people capitalized on including several crewmembers, all earning an arctic swimming certificate.
The day ended with the crew show, and as always, the dancing was superb.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Polar Bears and Walrus!

Under somber grey skies we set out in our Polar Cirkel boats at 08:30 to explore the terminus of Monacobreen, a glacier named after Duke Albert of Monaco.  Each glacier cruise was thirty minutes long.  It took about five minutes for the speedy Norwegian boats to  reach the minimum safety distance of 200 metres to the glacier which meant that each boat had a full twenty minutes to cruise along the ice front!  As an additional safety measure, all five boats set out in an anti-clock wise train, ensuring that you always had company close by.

As usual there were thousands of Black-legged Kittiwakes in the air, on the water and perched on ice floes.  Where the fresh water outflow of the Glacier was the greatest, there congregated many thousands of sea birds.  With good binoculars you could see that most of the birds were Kittiwakes with a smattering of Northern Fulmars and Glaucous Gulls mixed in.  It took a full five hours to make sure that everyone got their turn in the Polar Cirkel boats.  By 13:30 everyone was back on board Fram.

In the afternoon we visited a site called Jotunkjeldene in Bockfjorden.  In Norse mythology, Jotuns are a race of giants.  Jotunskjeldene translates to "giant springs".  However the springs here are barely more than a trickle of sulphur laden water. One wonders if these springs were larger at one time or if perhaps the name is an example of Nordic humour. The result of the warmer spring water is the presence of several species of plants that do not grow anywhere else in Spitsbergen.  We walked 100 metres straight up from the landing site to the spring and from there we could continue for another two to three hundred metres where we had a nice view of the surrounding area.  From that beautiful vista we could continue down the same route to the landing site.
Jotunkjeldene is a beautiful place. Large glaciers surround the landing site.  There are deep red, iron rich mountains to the east.  There were lots of wold flowers blooming including Bulbous Saxifrage, Mountain Avens, Arctic Mouse Ear and Svalbard Poppy.    We saw lots of evidence of Caribou in the form of scat and shed antlers.
By 20:00 everyone was back on the ship.  Even though we had already had a full and rewarding day, the day was not yet over.  We set a course for Moffen island where we would cross 80˚ N and where we hoped to find Walruses hauled out on the sandy beach.  Moffen is a protected area.  No one is allowed to land there, but with good binoculars we hoped to see those extraordinary pinnipeds.

On the way to Moffen Island we sighted Five Polar Bears in the same area.  One of the bears was dragging what looked like a Reindeer leg.  Food is one of the only things that will draw Polar Bears together in a loose group.  We watched the Polar Bears for about an hour and then we continued on to Moffen Island.

Sunday, 28 July 2013


Two landings and several excursions were set for the day in the area in and around Kongsfjorden, an area that is arguably one of the most beautiful places in Svalbard. The morning started off with a landing at 14 Julibukta, a beautiful glacier calving into the sea. Surrounding cliffs also support sea birds; species of Guillemots and Kittiwakes were rearing their young in the cliffs, as Glaucous gulls patrolled looking for a meal. We were lucky to spot over twenty fat, healthy reindeer grazing as the first groups landed on shore. A walk along the cliffs took guests past the hall of silence, a brief reprieve from the birds calling from the surrounding nesting sites.

Several guests arrived on shore to find a territorial Arctic Skua attempting, and I might add succeeding, to drive some of the intruders off its beach. Some of the more adventurous signed up for a walk up to the glacier, and were afforded beautiful views down upon the glacier from which the fjord is named.

The next landing after lunch was at Ny-Ålesund, not only one of the world’s northernmost communities, but also the site at which several historical attempts to reach the North Pole by air set off from. Ten people were also able to join a kayak trip paddling towards the glacier at the end of the fjord. The weather was calm, and aside from exploring several ice bergs, the trip was a great way to see the surrounding glaciers, geologic formations, and two bird colonies. The fishing trip that went out at the same time of the Ny-Ålesund landing was maybe not as successful at catching fish as they were at the seeing animals that spend their lives doing it for survival. They were able to spot puffins, seals, and the first ones on the trip to spot walrus that spent some time swimming around the boat.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Recherchebreen and Bamsebu

This morning we were due to land at Vårsolbukta at 08:00 but there was too much wave action at the beach and therefore not safe to operate the Polar Cirkel in safety.  We decided to move to the opposite side of Bellsund to Recherchefjord and Recherchebreen.  This side of Bellsund was very sheltered form the wind.  At 09:00 the Expedition Team went on shore to survey the site for bears.  The all clear signal was soon given and our Polar Cirkel boats began shuttling everyone to shore.  We landed on a nice gravel beach.  From there you could roam around a large moraine plain left from the now retreating Recherchebreen.  In front of Recherchebreen was a large glacial lake.  A small river of glacial outflow joined the lake to the sea.

The Expedition Team set up a perimetre within which we could stroll at our leisure.  The sun shone on steep mountains which rose on either side of the glacial plain.   With the brilliant sunshine, blue skies, the mountains, and the glacial front, no one cared that we switched landing sites.  Indeed, it seemed to have been completely forgotten. 

After lunch at 14:45 we landed at Bamsebu.  This is a site that was used by hunters in the 1930s that were hunting for Beluga whales .  Whale oil at that time was still valuable.  The hunters only used the skins and the blubber.  The rest of the animal was discarded.  The bones of an estimated 550 whales lie on the beach close to a small cabin.

Once again the Expedition Team fanned out to make sure no Polar Bears were lurking in the area.  Once the all clear was given, the Expedition Team led us on a 1 hour tour of the site where they explained the history of the area. Depending on which team member you were with, you learned about the geology, or the biology of the region.

While everyone was roaming around the moraine plain, several people went out kayaking.  It was a perfect day for it.  Virtually no wind and very sunny.  At approximately 19:30 everyone was back on board.

In the evening we were entertained with a fashion show.  The officers and Expedition Team modelled all of the clothes from the gift shop.  While no one had any runway experience it was still a lot of fun.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Hornsund and Whales

Gazing out the window this morning brought sweeping views of Hornbreen (Glacier). Seeing ice is always nice, and we were afforded picturesque bergs floating past the boat. The mood was set for the day as we cruised slowly through the calm waters of the fjord towards our landing site for the afternoon.  As passengers were getting fitted for the rubber boots used for beach landings, we arrived at the mouth of Hornsund.

After the usual polar bear sweep, passengers began coming ashore and exploring a bit. A highlight for many of the folks I spoke to were the birds nesting in the cliffs above the landing beach. Hundreds of Guillemots and Kittiwakes were nesting on the cliff walls, and fulmars and an occasional puffin flew by, high above the ground where a small arctic fox was running around in search of its next meal. It was a rather curious fox, and was very interested in our backpacks, running from one side of the landing site to the other, investigating his visitors. After returning to the ship under a sunny sky, we set off for a special site where whales are often spotted.

As the Captain and Crew were introduced, whale spouts were began being spotted in the distance. We had reached the “Drop-off”, where whales come to feed during the summer months. The observation lounge and outside decks provided a spectacular view of the show that was unfolding before everyone on board. Humpback and Minke whales, among others, were feeding in an area with lots of upwelling. The steep rise in sea level, combined with a strong ocean current  push nutrient rich water to the surface, in the process known as upwelling; which in turn provide the essential nutrients for algae and small organisms to grow on which these large marine mammals live off. For nearly 45 minutes, a group of about a dozen humpback whales stayed just off the bow and fed while we floated quietly. It was an amazing experience, and perfect way to end the day, to be able to hear their vocalizations and loud breaths when they came up for air under the midnight sun.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

We're High in the Arctic!

No.  Not that kind of high.  Give us a little latitude.  We're so high that were you to try to find us on a globe we would be under the brass cap.  Our journey started in Longyearbyen and already we were at 78.xxxx N.  While it is one of our goals to exceed 80˚ N, we begin our journey on a heading that will take us south to the very unique Russian coal mining town of Barentsburg. Barentsburg is located at 78.0667 ˚N. 

We arrived at the pier just after 20:00.  The tide was very low which enabled us to use the gangway on deck three.  Upon disembarking we assembled in language groups on the dock beside the ship where we met our local Russian guides and the Expedition Team.

 Mining for coal started here in 1916.  Ownership of the mines changed hands a couple of times but was resold to a Russian company in 1932.  The Russian influence is felt from the moment you step on the pier. Many of the buildings reflect the styles of architecture in vogue in Russia at that time.

Now Barentsburg is a community of approximately 450 people.  Many of the buildings are abandoned and in a state of decay.  It definitely has a feeling of a ghost town except people live and work there all year round.

Upon completion of a 30 minute tour of the community we were invited to a beautiful old  theatre where we were entertained with Russian folk dancing and singing.  It certainly wasn't what one expects on a trip to a Norwegian Arctic archipelago.  The performers, four Russian guys and five women were all amateurs and all held regular jobs related to the coal mine.  Despite their amateur status they put on an excellent show.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

From Ice to Hunters

We spent the morning in Liefdefjorden were we could see four glaciers named: Idabreen, Emmabreen, Seligerbreen and Monacobreen.  We did a polarcirkle-boat cruise through the ice cruising along the Monacobreen ice wall.  We had a unique view to the wall and was literally thousands of birds around, mainly  Kittiwakes, Glaucous Gulls, Artic Terns , but the occasional Fulmar, Artic Skua and others did show up.

During the afternoon we visited Mushamna “the mouse bay” also there is a hunters/trapper hut, that now belongs to the Svalbard Government. The area has 3 small lakes that contained Eider Ducks and some Red-throated Divers (Loons). In the Tundra were Purple Sandpipers breeding as well. The tundra at this period of time also contained many small flowers such as the Tufted Saxifraga.


Late in the evening we reached 80 degrees north our highest latitude on this voyage at Moffen Island were we observed Walruses laying on a beach.

Monday, 22 July 2013


After sailing for most of the day at about 12:30 hrs we finally saw land.  The first visible bit of land was  Prince Kong Forland, however with the fog visibility was low. A soft rain was with us while approaching to Ny Alesund.

Ny Alesund is a small settlement that initially started as a mining town and later become a research town.  Year round there is people in town, although the number of residents is variable during the summer months might be 150 inhabitants, while during the winter months it might reach 10 to 15 persons.  There is a small hotel, Post office, two mini museums and a souvenir shop, on the daily life most people run in bicycles and if they have to go to the outer parts of town they carry a gun and sometimes dogs.

This settlement gained fame during the 1920’s, this fame was through the dramatic flights attempts to reach the North Pole.  Among the individuals that came to this settlement were Richard Bird, Roald Amundsen, Lincoln Ellsworth, and Umberto Nobile to name some.  All of these persons were trying to reach the North Pole by either flying boats or airships. There is much to talk on the theme but we have no space here to do so, but check on board for lectures on the topic. The airship mast from were some of this expeditions departed still there a bit moved by the permafrost but still in good shape.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Norwegian Sea

We have another sea day on the way to Spitzbergen. Still a day with lots of activities.

Sea days offer possibilities for bridge visits. There were six groups today to meet the captain on the bridge. Two more will come tomorrow. The captain explains the principles of navigation and equipment of Fram as well. And of course our Chinese passengers love photo sessions and also stamps and signatures of the ship's officers.

A former head of Yellow River Station in Ny Alesund, our next destination, gave a lecture about the place and his work there. In addition to our briefing for the landing, the passengers are now best prepared for their visit to the science village Ny Alesund.

Another lecture dealt with the question: Who owns the Arctic. An overview of the present situation in the five nations that border the Arctic Ocean. Basis for all territorial questions is the "United Nations Convention on the law of the sea". Even though all these activities in the Arctic circle around economic profit there is a chance for a new dimension of international cooperation in the Arctic, due to the specific conditions in this area. Hopefully the rights and interests of the native people of the Arctic will be taken into account in an appropriate way. Cause in the end it is the home of these people, the bordering nations are longing for.

The afternoon was filled with a table tennis competition, a lecture for the children on board, and a lecture by the Taoist master for the others.

And of course, since it is Sunday, we had freshly prepared waffles in the observation lounge.

Even after dinner the program went on with the fashion show, presenting the season's new collection of clothing that is offered in the ship's shop. And finally this show was topped by another one with singing and dancing that our cheerful Chinese guests had prepared.

So, never think a sea day could be boring.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Jan Mayen

After all the fog yesterday, this morning the sun and a clear horizon welcomed us when we got up. Nevertheless life appeared slowly today. Maybe because of another hour of time change – a "lost" hour – last night.

But then all of a sudden there was a lot of chatting onboard. Our Chinese guests were eagerly awaiting our first landing: Jan Mayen.

Steffen gave an introduction to the volcanic island, and when the passengers saw the first few photographs of erupting volcanoes they were a kind of cheerful.

Jan Mayen is regarded being active, even though there are no eruptions at the moment, giving us the chance for a landing. Which is in general a rare event, to be able to land on Jan Mayen.

When we came closer it turned out that the East coast showed too much swell for small boats. So we chose plan B which was at landing at the western side at Walrus Bay.

The head of the Norwegian Station on Jan Mayen had been driving over to our landing site to welcome us very friendly.

From a hill and a ridge behind the bay and a few Norwegian shelter buildings there was a great view on this volcanic landscape. Volcanic ashes all over the place. But since the last eruption dates back to the 70s there were also extended green areas with moss and grass and some flowering plants. From time to time all this disappeared in dense very low clouds that were blown across the bay. That way we didn't get to see the highest volcano of the island, named Beerenberg, which is 2277 m high.

Still, we had an afternoon with lots of fascinating impressions. Including lots of Fulmars and Puffins, that were nesting on a cliff and a high slope above the bay.

After four hours we left to head for Svalbard.