Alkefjellet in the Hinlopen

Sunday 17th June

The sea was rough overnight, but staying lying down was a good thing and I slept well. Harold, one of the crew, had other ideas and cut open a heavy steel ball they found, shaping it into an image of the Kinfish and used as a drinks bowl. Clever. 

Cut down from a steel ball, this is a unique drinks container indeed

At some stage we passed 80° North latitude and I went up to the bridge to have a photo taken of the VKS737 cap showing the GPS position. 

Crossing north of 80° latitude

Overnight – ummm, during the hours one normally associates with night, we moved from the exposed waters into the calmer Hinlopen Strait that would become our home for the next week.

Morten woke us at 8:20am, both having slept much longer than expected, and after a quick breakfast of porridge and omelette, we arrived at the Alkefjellet Bird Cliff – map link.  These are safe places for the birds to nest as no foxes or bears can get to them. But the ledges are tiny and dreadful places to sit for long periods trying to incubate an egg or two.

Home for the Guillemot

 

1.5°C was not uncommon outside
Barry in comfort in the Captains chair

Apparently the young travel to Greenland, 1000km away before they are ready to fly. The mother flies away and leaves the raising of the chick to the father. Around 10th August the father lands on the water and calls the chick to come down. Amongst the thousands of birds here, they seem to know which is which. The chick semi falls into the ocean, maybe gliding a bit, and the father swims to it before heading of across the ocean to Greenland. Here, hunters shoot them for food, so the numbers are dropping. 

It was around 1°C outside, so after we took our photos I came onto the bridge and sat for an hour or so talking with Captain Fred and the tour guides. 

North west Svalbard

Saturday 16th June

Pleasant nights sleep with a bit of rocking. Turns out there was rain and snow overnight. We’ve anchored in a bay on the north west corner and the plan was to do zodiac cruising. This means no landing but a couple of hours sitting in the zodiac with camera ready for a sighting of some interesting things.  We’re at Virgohamna.  Google maps link

On the cards this morning were seals, and indeed we found them. Most were sitting uncomfortably on a round rock, but at least they were safe from the polar bears. After some time, maybe an hour, we had one or two pop their heads up out of the water and say hello to us, before darting away again. Some nice video will follow. The seals were humorous to look at when the tried to move around, a bit like it is with humans in a sleeping back. 

Must have been a comfy rock to keep a smile up as the tide rises

Once we came back onboard and went through the ritual of undressing our outer layers. Once inside the mud room, it all gets very hot very quickly, and as was the case today, if the boat lifts anchor and moves off, the motion really gets to me, amplified by feeling hot. I’ve decided to only put my final heavy jacket on outside, and to take it off again before entering inside. 

Today I had three woollen thermals, my fleecy thick jacket now with a broken zip, and the final layer is the yellow heavy thermal coat. Ski gloves, woollen thermals bottoms, normal pants and then insulated waterproof overpants. Two pairs of sock inside the rubber boots and generally one or two beanies will keep me warm sitting still for a Zodiac tour. 

We had a couple of hours of boat cruising very close to a large glacier in magnificent sunshine which made us all drowsy. Lunch was had – I think lasagne if I recall. and then due to the rough weather, the next outing was set for 5:30pm. I laid down and napped which helped my discomfort quite well. 

We spent a couple of hours zodiac cruising around with flat sea ice, and also admiring the odd shapes and colours of the glacier ice. The sun had come back again and the colours were stunning. 

Dinner was once again a special event and Morten described the likelihood of rough conditions overnight and how there were some options for the captain to get us to the places we want to in the most comfortable manner. Today we had eight other ships around us through the day, the further north we go, the less there will be. 

Kings Bay – Aleysund

Friday 15th June

Last nights rough conditions eased as we travelled north and in between two islands which gave a smooth ride that most appreciated and slept nicely.

During the night, the anchor was dropped and in the morning we found ourselves in King Bay – Aleysund. This was where Hubert Wilkins was aiming for when he flew from Alaska to Svalbard over a hundred years ago on his extraordinary flight with the most basic of navigation instruments.

We’re next to a glacier and the weather is glorious. Bright sunshine, almost warm and we enjoyed a breakfast of porridge, omelettes, cereals – plenty of everything provided by the chef who is an engaging and friendly chap.

Our first journey on the Zodiacs was a good experience. Dressing up in our wet weather gear, overjackets, $25 boots from Bunnings alongside very expensive Muck Boots with neoprene wet suit material – both seemed to work fine.

The crew off load the zodiacs from the rear – aft – deck with the ships crane and they are brought around to the side of the boat where we climb down a few steps, step onto the side of the zodiac then into the base – being supported by a crew. Still hanging onto the crew, you turn around and sit down on the side, and your backpack is passed to you. Always having two hands free for the climb.

A short ride of perhaps 300 metres and a smooth landing on the beach, spin around 180° and drop into the water – after checking the depth. Fortunately no inrush of freezing water into my boots!! Single shot rifles were prepared as a matter of completely last resort. Sensible behaviours by us, and a couple of long plastic poles carried by the guides are the other lines of defence against polar bears. Our guide has written a book about Polar Bear behaviours and appears quite confident and competent to assist and support us should danger come our way. We need to play our part and follow instructions!

 

Fresh bear prints

 

Barnacle Geese
Kittywake Gulls on a little ice berg

Common Eider
Ptarmigan
Jean, Jenny and Barry all rugged up in our normal outdoors gear
A little reindeer resting in the snow. As warmer weather comes they seem to lie in the snow to cool down as their fur is incredible warm and is moulting.

A slow stroll along the beach to observe a large bird nesting rookery and we found fresh polar bear prints. Large for an animal, with pad and claws it would have been as long as my foot and twice as wide. These were fresh marks left since the last high tide – so we were on the lookout.

As we climbed to the top of the rookery bluff, we saw reindeer, including one young one that was feeling hot in the sun, so was lying on the snow to cool down. Several birds and awesome mountain views. One pair of Rock Ptarmigan with the male in white and the female very well camouflaged.

The sun stayed out all morning with very clear almost cloudless skies and after four hours we returned to the boat very satisfied. Chef had delayed lunch to suit our late return. They are always in radio contact with each other, the two guides and the boat crew.

After a lunch of soup with fresh cooked bread, we were all sent for a siesta which was very welcome. The climb up the bluff was arduous with steep sections and wearing the heavy boots walking in slushy ground was hard going. The views across Kings Bay had amazing clarity.

The afternoon started at 4:00pm with both zodiacs being loaded with 6 passengers each – a real luxury with most cruises fitting twelve giving no room to move around.

We cruised along the coastline searching for the polar bear we’d seen before, but with no luck.

Quite quickly the weather changed. The wind picked up as we came close to the glaciers, as did the waves and our wet weather overjackets were put to the test. My lovely warm possum gloves are not waterproof!. I carried a waterproof bag to store the camera and this worked well, simply pulling it over the camera that was dangling around my neck.

We snuck into little coves along the rocky coast, coming close to little icebergs allowed some great pictures of the patterns in the ice.

We made our way back to the Kinfish and left our heavy gear in the mud room, before settling into dinner a while later. Salmon first, then schnitzels second. We are being very well fed!

After dinner we lifted the anchor and motored close to the glacier, edging into uncharted waters as a snails pace. Fred the captain is cautious about ice – wise I think. Around 9:30pm, with it still quite light outside, I closed the hatch on the cabin, crawled into bed and slept soundly.

First night of the midnight sun

I woke at 2:30am to find the apartment flooded in light. Jenny told me later she thought at the time when she saw all the light –  “***** Tim, still on his computer”, which will be understood by many people who have had the pleasure of my company over a few days.

However it wasn’t be at all, it was the sun in they sky pushing through the layers of clouds and at around 15° above the horizon – what we might expect at 9:00am on a regular day. I still haven’t quite worked out how this is going to work, and if the sun will travel all around us to the east, south, then west as one expects, or if is will continue to cover the north sky as well. All will be revealed later I imagine, and you will be the first to find out,

Around 6:00am, Jean and I went for a walk around the harbour area of Longyearbyen and found our little boat the Kinfish parked, ummm, moored alongside the floating deck. This was reassuring and the excitement raised as all the planning of the previous months was coming together. Today was going to be our day to board.

Using my Groundwire app accessing my VOIP provider MyNetFone and a dedicated Perth number I bought from them, as long as I have 3G or WiFi access I can make a phone call with very clear sound.

We called our taxi driver from yesterday, Curri, and arranged a 10:30am pickup, then had a breakfast of toast and cereal before all of us going off for a walk. This time we walked onto the floating deck and met the crew from the Kinfish. They seemed like a happy and welcoming bunch.

Curri picked us up right on time and new we could leave our luggage at the Radisson, so took it there with us. This was a great relief as we had to check out at 11:00am and had to board at 4:00pm – what do we do with our bags in between??

We’d bought an hour of his time and he took us out along the road up to a local mountain. Some eider ducks nesting was on the way and the dog sled business had placed it’s dogs on guard so the arctic foxes wouldn’t come to steal the eggs or kill the ducks.

Further up the mountain we found tours of dog sledding, both on wheeled trolleys and then on the snow further up. Coal mines, satellite dishes for researching the ionosphere, an awesome views through the clear sky to the coast and over Longyearbyen.

 

This cost us 600NOK per hour, which was quite reasonable given the four of us could share the cost.  Exchange rate is between 5and 6 NOK to A$. Curri dropped us in the village and we found a busy little cafe – everywhere is busy in peak season – and then we split up to go do different things. I visited the Svalbard Museum and the polar explorers exhibition. Both were okay, but I was expecting to see at least a mention of Sir Hubert Wilkins, Australian explorer, who achieved a great deal in both polar regions, but could not find any mention anywhere.

Curri returned right on time to take us to the Kinfish and we had a happy greeting of the other passengers at they arrived to the wharf. We were greeted by the five crew and two guides and started the process of settling in. I’m sharing with Sean, a retired neurosurgeon from Ireland. He is an avid photographer, huge tripod, two camera bodies and several LARGE lens. He’s not alone and several of our 12 have enormous lens and full frame cameras. Very jealous, in some ways. They don’t however, have a nice Sony Action Cam!

We had a long briefing from the captain and introduced to everyone. The boat owner Robin is on board too and shares the bridge watch with Caption Fred on a 6 hour rotation. For some reason, once we cast off, I felt most unsettled and not nauseous as such, just quite uncomfortable and needing the fresh air of outside, as chilled as it was. I think I had got too hot in all my cold weather gear, but inside the boat was a much warmer and comfortable temperature needing normal clothes.

After a very enjoyable dinner of cod, lying down was the only sensible option. We closed the porthole covers to keep the light out and both slept well. I rose at midnight and spent a couple of hours with Fred on the bridge – we can go anywhere which is pretty cool. I slept again and felt an awful lot better in the morning.

Oslo to Longyearbyen – Infinity and beyond…

I could tell you all about how we set our alarms for 5:00am to catch the 6:54am train, but got early and caught the 6:28am instead, and zoomed through the countryside for half an hour at 180kmh plus.

Zooming along

But I think what you REALLY want to see are photos of Svalbard.

Fair enough, but first we had to take off over the lovely Norwegian countryside.

Cloud came over but we did get some awesome sights along the way.

After some open water, the sea ice and land appeared – boom!

And the forecast was right, light snow on arrival.

Barry found a taxi driver who would take all of us to the meeting point for 120NOK, when it was going to cost 75NOK each on the bus. Curry ?sp, did a fine job to squeeze all of us into the Prius with luggage and along the way, we asked him to turn into the Svalbard Seed Bank. I was really quite pleased to be here, and it was fun to get out of the car and into the snow – for a couple of minutes.

After a little wait, made easier by the nice turnip soup and bread for lunch at the Radisson, we were met by our AirBnb host. Things are pretty busy here at the moment being peak season and tomorrow a large cruise ship of 5000 plus is coming. The normal population of Longyearbyen is about 2000 and there are three or so flights a day bringing about 700 people in. But an extra 5000!  wow.

We got dressed up to go exploring and it was still snowing lightly.

The beach.

We found the supermarket and felt safe inside.

Town centre.

Then went off to a restaurant for a fine dinner of fish and local beers.

a jolly good time was had at Kroa.

The light has remained pretty much the same since we arrived about 10 hours ago. Not sure if it will get any dimmer. It’s overcast but when the mist lifts there are awesome views of an arid harsh rugged landscape.