Glacier walks

22nd June 2018

Not the most pleasant night for anyone as we headed back down the west coast. Plenty of uneven swells had the Kinfish moving and the captain slowed the vessel to make it more comfortable. Of course, this made it last longer before we could move into the protection of Krossfjodan again.

But eventually end it did and of course the sun came out too as we motored up to the enormous Lilliehöök  glacier.  A search for foxes on the steep slope as they chased a feed of birds eggs was successful as we spotted one step it’s way carefully down the steep slope, only to be deterred by the flapping wings of a pair of very protective geese.

We cruised across the front of Lilliehöök glacier and then parked up nearby (map Link) before launching the zodiacs for a walk.

Jean catching up on some reading in the sun after we cruised a magnificent glacierWith little wildlife to be seen, Barry and I were keen to stride out and stretch our legs. However for safety’s sake we couldn’t stretch the group out, so complied as best we could with the guides request.

 

Midsummers day

Thursday 21st June 2018

Last night the porthole covers had been opened again – after being locked shut whilst going through the icy waters. Should the outer glass have been broken, water would have splashed inside and the heavy steel covers had to be in place to protect the ship, and keep Sean’s bed dry. 

Just before the call to breakfast, Beluga whales were sighted. These smallish whales are all white and quite stand out on the dark ocean as they rise to the surface to breathe. No useful photos to show of these creatures. 

Breakfast of porridge, omelette and blueberry pie, with filter coffee and tea. 

We’ve started the journey back to Longyearbyen and are heading to a glacier, one of many around, and will explore via zodiac this morning. 

Fantastic weather again. Bright blue sky, we need sun screen. Not warm, perhaps 2°C, but the visibility is awesome and as there is no wind, once the zodiac stops moving, the cold blast on any exposed areas of your face is quite easy to take. At some stage, we start removing the various layers to stop from being too hot. 

I had five head coverings, three layers on my legs, five or six, maybe seven on my ever expanding torso. The food is exceptional in variety and taste. Chef announces each meal with a flourish and a story, then each wine with a similar story, very amusing. 

So we motored up to the two glaciers and sat and waited for calving to occur – some did, but by the time we hear the crack of the ice, the event has happened and all we see is a splash. 

We find things to look at – a seal here, or some birds. The seal had a bright orange red face and initially looked nervous at our approach, but with slow and gentle approaches, it stayed still and we came within 10 metres without it launching into the security of the water. We inspect many icebergs and admire the colours and shapes. 

We returned for lunch and moved to a small archipelago in the same sound where we launched the zodiacs for a quick cruise around to check for wildlife/bears. This took an hour or so, then we moved to a second archipelago, the same place we saw the beluga in the murky fog of the morning. This time we were out for several hours and as we returned, things looked a little odd on the back deck of the Kinfish, and there appeared to be someone swinging from a chair lift. Was Adrian the waiter going for another dip?

Whale bone
The life beneath the surface. Krill or shrimp. There were jellyfish too, with an orange blob in them.
A curious Guillemot

Soon it was clear that the crew had set up for dinner on the rear deck. It was summer solstice after all. This was a great event and most enjoyed by everyone. Chef Christo was put in the chair lift and lifted around to hang above us as he presented his talk for the meal for the evening, and he tried to show us the wines that had been hanging in a bucket up high on a frame. Very funny indeed. Ship owner Robin was hoisted high above the table to take a photo from straight above. 

BBQ pork spare ribs and BBQ chicken presented with several options of dressing, salads, corn, potatoes and then Ice creams with meringue served in the arctic on mid summers day. We all had a good time, speeches praising the crew were made and the passengers helped clean up.   We were all in our cold weather gear, the sun had some heat in it but it was probably only 4°C. No wind, bright sunshine, 11pm. amazing. I took a photo from the bridge after midnight in the same conditions. The moon is up too. How good is all of this!!!

Just after midnight on Midsummer day

 

Eyeballing Walrus and the Heleysundet

Wednesday 20 June 2018

We’d motored on through the night, hitting the difficult straight close to slack tide which made navigating the ice and the whole thing easier and with less speed. Yesterday we reached 30kmh instead of the normal 15kmh in this notorious Heleysundet strait located at Map link. It made for a zoomy ride for the old Kinfish with the Captain skilfully negotiating ice, currents, eddies. Tidal charts aren’t accurate here, and once into the strait there isn’t any turning back.

I woke around 5:00am, sensing a slowing of the vessel and sat on the bridge with Robin. It was very foggy and with some large icebergs around, he checked the radar, I checked out the window. I’m sure he checked out the window too, but sitting on the bridge, one feels important. The ice seemed to form into long lines with the current, lots of little ice, some larger, and he had to cross these lines by carefully picking a gap of 20 metres or so wide and slowly negotiating the 100m wide slurry.

Negotiating the ice in the Hinlopen Strait. The steady chug of the Grenaa Diesel named Sophie was always present and reassuring.

A cold still ‘night’

Ice and fog with no horizon. The swells from the Atlantic were still present, but a gentle action with a smooth sea on top.
Guillemot working hard to fly somewhere
Walrus on a floe
Mother and cubs

Some walrus were found on floes, mothers with cubs. We approached land and the prepared for a cold foggy zodiac ride to check out a group of walrus on land, about 10.  Quite amazingly the clouds cleared and we had a wonderful sunny 6 hours off the boat. We cruised around the walrus for several hours, drifting closer each pass, everyone drilled to keep quiet and still. The machine gun of the cameras do disturb the quiet atmosphere so it is best to choose the zodiac without that particular couple in it. One of them took 5000 photos of walrus this day. Five Thousand!!!

The walrus mostly lay about on the land, but some were playing in the water. They were all males, some were stabbing each other with their long tusks as part of the play, or as part of ‘stop annoying me’. Hard to tell. They’d swim up to the zodiacs, getting closer each time. 

For all their fearsome tusks, all they eat are mussels they suck from rocks and the occasional fish.
Just hanging out in the sun with the boys
Grand dad was there too – the biggest

We landed about 200m from them and slowly walked as a group, closer to them. Again, we were all quite disciplined and it worked well. My feet were cold in the thin rubber boots, even with two pairs of socks. We were walking in thick snow, sometimes knee deep, which in itself was a very new experience for the Aussies. 

Morten took most of the group for a walk along the coast that lasted an hour or so, before cutting inland to return to the group. As we were standing near the zodiacs a couple of walrus, including the very biggest of them, surely weighing 1000kg, came up to us and walked to around a metre from some of us. Just looking, curious. We looked back, also curious. 

Barry carrying the leaders pole
Nozomi, Barry and Morten checking things out
Tiny flowers making the most of a short time not covered in snow
‘Hauling out’ is a good description when you weigh 1000kg and have only little front ‘legs’ to work with – and those tusks. He took about 15 minutes to get from the water up to the boys, with a lot of rests along the way.

The cloud was coming over so it became a little colder and less bright as we admired the vast empty landscape before boarding the zodiacs to return to the Kinfish moored 500m away. 

Walrus swam closer and closer, with the water a little clear. This went on for half an hour and there were three or so walrus swimming around us. They seem to get more game when there are more of them in a group. I was looking over the edge into the water and a walrus rose from the deep coming straight for me. Eyes open, tusks MOST visible, then it popped it’s head up about a metre, maybe less from me. We had a bit a look over each other and as he dived there was a friendly little splash – or did he spray water at me from his mouth?

What a close encounter. 

First approach
A playful roll away to go fetch the mates to check out these new dudes with long legs
Awesome
Now with a buddy, he comes closer
Much more agile in the water

Amazing. 

Returning to the boat dinner was had (We had crumbed fish followed by blueberry pie and Jacob’s Creek wine.) and I needed to show the underwater footage I’d collected. Unfortunately the water was not clear enough to show anything useful.

Bed was welcomed after this long and wonderful outing.

Sunshine and visitors

Tuesday 19th June

Never quite sure which day is which with the sun holding the same amplitude all day long, just moving around the sky like a clock.

Around 1:15am we had a call over the PA to let us know there was a bear around the ship. A quick rush to get out of bed, dressed in warm thermals – but not wind or rain proof as there was still a lovely clear sky and bright sunshine. I walked out the quickest route which for me is the aft deck where the zodiacs are stored and saw a bear within a few metres, perhaps 5 metres, of the vessel. Plenty of activity was happening with cameras going off rapidly. I fired up the Sony Action Cam and started filming. The bear came to the side of the boat, and stood up, intent on following the scent of the food coming from the galley. 

Some awesome video footage and photos were taken as this wild animal investigated all around the ship, looking into portholes and generally being inquisitive. It would go away 50 metres, only to return for another look. Eventually it went a little further, laid down in a little spot on the ice it had smoothed out and tried to rest. During his visit to us, he yawned several times – we were that boring to him.

Rolling in the snow helps to dry the water off them. This bear had swum up to our boat.
Curiousity
Off to find a buddy and tell them all about us.
Nice silhouette of the Kinfish
Barry looked out his porthole and saw the bear looking in – as in – nose on glass. In his surprise, his hand struck a fitting in the room and got a bruise and thus he sustained an injury from a polar bear.

Our noises and smells became too much and he walked a bit further away to find a new spot. It was interesting to see how he would jump up a little with his front paws and try to test the ice before moving onto ice close to the edge of the water, or also to test an area before lying down. He’d use the same technique to try to break through and make a seal hole. Hoping for a seal to poke it’s head up for air and for it to become dinner. No such luck for him today. 

Our chef suggested a celebratory drink of whisky so we all gathered on the fore deck and recanted what had happened. Morten and the crew all said that was a VERY unusual occurrence, and for it to be combined with bright sunshine and no wind made for a wonderful experience for everyone. 

I loaded my Sony Action Cam footage onto the laptop and showed it to the crew, then found a way to have it presented on the very large TV –  a left over from the ships life as a survey vessel. 

Around 4:30am I guess, I headed to bed and the weather was closing in. We’d seen our bear see another and chase them across the ice until they met, eyed each off, then had a playful tumble and walked along together. 

Two subsequent calls were made over the next couple of hours and I stayed under my warm doona both times. The first call was for a bear who walked past some distance away, then for the first friendly bear to return – with extra determination after his nap. 

Robin had a go pro on a selfie stick and got wonderful footage of the bear at the side of the boat, and even taking a sniff of the camera itself. Amazing stuff. 

Later we woke again for breakfast, with none of us quite  believing what we had seen just a few hours before. 

We left this ice parking spot – by explanation, the boat is pushed as far into the ice as possible so that the ice holds the ship in position and the main motor can be shut down. This is nicer than using the anchor as we are held sold and there is no rocking around. 

Around 9:00am we backed out and headed south, needing to navigate a narrow channel at slack tide. The Kinfish has been through here before, so the captain has confidence about the depth if he follows that route. The other issue is the one metre tidal difference between the two ends of the channel, hence the need to go through at slack tide. Our normal speed of around 7 or 8 knots was double as we zoomed through the gaps, weaving between the fast moving icebergs that were also moving with the tides, some eddy currents and whirlpools it was an interesting ride. That we are allowed, and encouraged to be up on the bridge at this time is wonderful and another part of the benefits of this tour. 

Approximate location

After lunch we have found sea ice packed into a glacier and are attempting to park it up, but the ice is ‘rotten’, quite thin and breaks up easily, not holding the ship as expected. 

It is gloomy outside. Raining. Cold at 1°C and no one is looking forward to the potential for a zodiac outing. On the other hand if it fines up, we may have a trip before and after dinner. 

Later.

It didn’t fine up at all and in fact got worse. Nevertheless, Morten and Nozomi offered a Zodiac ride for anyone that wanted it and one passenger said yes. So the engine was started and we motored towards the straight to anchor and then release the zodiac. Several of us waited around to ensure they returned safely, which they did, quite chilled, but happy from their expedition. 

What a 24 hours; what a week!

Polar Bears

Monday 18th June 2018

Woken at 2:00am or thereabouts to see a female bear and two cubs feeding and settling in. They were a VERY long way away, and this shot is through the powerful binoculars by putting the iPhone camera lens against the binoculars. The mother bear had dug a hole in the snow, then laid back to allow her cubs to feed. Amazing to be able to show you this – I hope you can make it out.

 

We all went back to bed around  4am, then I rose again at 7am, breakfast at 8:00am and part way through breakfast we got the call to get ready for a zodiac launch to follow the bears. 

We followed this little family along the coastline for several kms. The mother appeared unbothered by our presence. Aware, but unthreatened.

 

Here’s a video taken with my Canon DSLR. Sorry about the wobbles, it’d be better if I had taken my tripod into the zodiac!!

 

Returned at 12:45pm a bit cold but elated at what we had seen. 

Big warming lunch of pasta carbonara followed by a nap as the ship moved to a new location. Nozomi was up high in the tower and scanning for bears, or anything as we moved through the passages and then found a number on some packed sea ice. Morten counted 14 bears though his 15x67mm binoculars, I could see four. Another mother with twin cubs, plus some solitary animals. They never came closer, so we spent the afternoon watching birds and admiring the lovely clear blue skies and enormous terrain we were in. 

 

I’ve figured that the sun is most likely due north at midnight and due south at midday. It’s currently very bright shining through the portholes in the cabin. Usually we shut the covers and it keeps out most of the light, enough to make sleeping easier.