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Monthly Archives: July 2015 − News & Stories

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Walrusses, ice and currents – 30th July 2015

An incredible day. It started quite early in dense fog and with a group of walrusses, who were in good shape and pretty active. It continued in fog and with more and more ice. The ice stayed, the fog went, and so we continued through an extremely pleasant afternoon, cruising under a bright sun through the most beautiful ice, watching seals and birds. Pure high arctic.

Then there was the question if it would be possible to pass through Heleysund. Watching the fields of drift ice, which were getting larger and larger and denser and denser, one would hardly have placed a bet on a successful passage. But wait and see. The current increased, and finally we had reached a point where a return would have been difficult and then even impossible. Unfortunately I can’t send a video at this time (later!), and it is hard to describe this passage. A rollercoaster ride in strong currents, together with a large field of drift ice. The individual ice floes were all drifting here and there and everywhere, pure chaos. Skipper Pål maneouvred frantically, trying not to bump too much into ice, but that was hard to avoid. Luckily, the Arctica II is built to take some beating in the ice. Any other sailing boat with a hull made from any other material than good, strong steel would have been crushed to pieces. The views of the nearby icefloes seemed to indicate a turbulent, but stationary position, a look towards the rocky shores made clear that we were actually drifting with some amazing speed, far beyond the capability of the engine alone.

Gallery Walrusses, ice and currents – 30th July 2015

Click on thumbnail to open an enlarged version of the specific photo.

Now we are through, a very impressive experience richer, and looking forward to a calm anchorage, a little late evening walk on Barentsøya, and definitely some hours og good sleep.

Lomfjord & Hinlopen – 29th July 2015

Yes, good weather, that’s what we want and what we need. The wind had largely calmed down and even the sun was coming out at times. So on we went, with sandwiches and thermos bottles, into the tundra and up the mountains. Great views of the landscape near and far, bizarre shapes of weathering snow on the banks of little rivers, ptarmigans and reindeer, flowers and erratic boulders, large valleys with glaciers and moraines. Six hours exactly as we want them.

Photo Faksevagen – 29th Juli 2015 – 1/2

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Hinlopen Strait itself, however, is less hospitable, but better than yesterday, less wind. And the lively activity of hundred thousands of Brünich’s guillemots at Alkefjellet is always extremely impressive, also when the sky is grey.

Photo Faksevagen – 29th Juli 2015 – 2/2

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Now we are curious about the near future. We have good hopes for less wind, walrusses, a visit to the great ice cap of Nordaustland and drift ice. Enough to be interesting, but not too much, so we may successfully sail into Storfjord, the most important step to turn this trip into a circumnavigation of the main island of Spitsbergen.

Photo Alkefjellet – 29th Juli 2015

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Wind & Ice – 28th July 2015

It is as if someone had pushed a button in the weather system of the far north some days ago. After the calm weeks that we had until mid July, we have now got the second period with strong winds in Spitsbergen. The first one wasn’t much of a bother to us, as we had spent some very enjoyable days in the shelter of inner Kongsfjord, as the reader may remember. Right now, we have heard that a full-grown storm is raging around Sørkapp (the south cape), and sailing boats wait in Longyearbyen for the wind to calm down before they leave.

Last night, the anchor was dragging in Murchisonfjord, Arctica II was vigorously pulling on the chain in the gusts. It was kind of ok until the morning, but it was clear that this was no place to spend more time than necessary. A bay that provides shelter not only from the sea but also from the wind, that would be good now.

Photo Hinlopen – 28th July 2015

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Additionally, we have got the information that there is movement in the ice off the eastern tip of Spitsbergen. So far, the passage from southern Hinlopen to Heleysund had been blocked by dense drift ice, but now it seems to be open. This passage is not very long, but currently the crucial bit with regards to a potential circumnavigation of Spitsbergen. Now we are half-way through the voyage, time-wise. If we want to sail around Spitsbergen, then we have to keep an eye on time.

Photo Faksevagen – 28th July 2015

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Enough reasons altogether to leave Murchisonfjord and set course southwards in Hinlopen Strait, even if that involves rough sea for a couple of hours. But not for too long. It was nice to walk on solid tundra ground later in Lomfjord.

Murchisonfjord – 27th July 2015

Inner Murchisonfjord is teasing with its wide-open landscapes, barren but then so rich in detail, and the vicinity of the inland ice. So we went out, equipped with thermos bottles and sandwiches, following little valleys inland. A moon landscape, but so colourful, maybe rather a Mars landscape? Precambrian colours turn some of the hills deeply red. Thanks to the stromatolithes, who initially produced all that free oxygen.

Photo Triodalen – 27th July 2015 – 1/2

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Even the rivers seem to hide from the harsh climate sometimes, as they build some beautiful snow bridges and tunnels. Good views of the inland ice, Vestfonna. Only the beginning destruction of a hiking boot keeps us from walking the last bit to the ice. But to appreciate the greatness of a mountain (or ice cap), you have to keep a distance anyway.

Photo Triodalen – 27th July 2015 – 2/2

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And seven hours of fresh air don’t leave much to be desired. There is plenty of fresh air today, the air seems to be in a rush. We hide in a small side bay with the boat, trying to get a little bit out of the wind. The ropes are banging against the mast, making a lost of noise, and the anchor is audibly working to keep Arctica II in position. Hopefully the wind goes down a bit.

Photo Fargefjellet – 27th July 2015 – 1/2

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Mosselbukta – 26th July 2015

In inner Mosselbukta, the landscape does not really know if it wants to be land or sea. A number of beaches separate smaller and larger lagoons, peninsulas reach out into the bay, a number of little rivers is running across the tundra. It is nice to hike in this diverse and varied environment. Remains of an old hut show where Russian hunters used to live centuries ago, two graves show that not all of them made it back home.

Photo Mosselbukta – 26th Juli 2015 – 1/3

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We found remains of wooden ship wrecks near the shore. Maybe from the catastrophic winter in 1872-73, when the famous Swedish explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld wintered in Mosselbukta? His ship was also forced to winter, as an early winter storm pushed ice into the bay. The ship made it well through the winter, but other ones that were also trapped were crashed and lost. The winter storms can be brutal here, as the immense amounts of driftwood make clear. There are also immense amounts of plastic rubbish, constantly coming in over long distances with sea currents, unfortunately. Mosselbukta is definitely on the list for a clean-up.

But away from the plastic, there is so much beauty on these coasts. Oysterleaf is flowering, protected by some large driftwood logs.

Photo Mosselbukta – 26th Juli 2015 – 2/3

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Later in the day: fish soup with fresh, locally caught arctic char, the crossing of 80 degrees, rounding Verlegenhuken and crossing northern Hinlopen Strait towards Nordaustland, something that does involve some rock and roll as there is a bit of wind against us.

Photo Mosselbukta – 26th Juli 2015 – 3/3

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Later, Murchisonfjord brought shelter from wind and waves and a lovely late evening walk in the polar desert of Nordaustland in the most beautiful evening light.

Photo Kvalrosshalvoya – 26. Juli 2015

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Land of polar bear and whalers – 25th July 2015

While continuing further northwest, we discovered another female polar bear which was walking over some small islands in Fuglefjord. This is good polar bear country at the time being, always something going on.
 
 

Foto Fugleholmane – 25. Juli 2015

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Looking for remains of 17th century whaling stations that are less well known and not as frequently visited as Smeerenburg, I quickly checked two small, but promising islands. However, they turned out to be less productive, from a whaling history point of view, than I had been hoping for. So we realized plan A, which meant Indre Norskøya. Still quite unknown, which is good. This trip is „advanced Spitsbergen“, so we have to find some places which not everybody has already been to.

Foto Indre Norskoya – 25. Juli 2015

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Which does not mean that visiting well-known places is not an option. Of course, we have got some Christiane Ritter fans on board, so we made a little detour to Gråhuken. The opportunity is good, given the very calm sea that we have got here today, and a late afternoon walk is a very welcome opportunity to break up the long trip to the east. Especially as we continued the walk to the northernmost tip of Andrée Land, Gråhukpynten, where the coastal flat is ending in lagoons and nicely structured rocky outcrops. And as we reached the shore, skipper Pål had already caught several fresh, nice arctic char J (similar to salmon).

Northwards – 24th July 2015

Now it was getting time to move northwards. The wind was not completely gone, but it had calmed down considerably, compared to two days ago, when we had turned into Krossfjord rather than going out. But there was still some sea and wind going, so some stayed outside, others inside, all enjoyed the views of the coast, slept a bit, read, and everybody was looking forward to sheltered waters, which were to come in just a few hours.

Photo – Northwards – 24th July 2015 – 1/3

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We passed the slightly smaller sister ship Arctica I and exchanged some goods, an interesting operation at open, moderately rough sea. With a rope and waterproof bags, we got some reading material for our skipper and black tea, while peanut butter went the opposite way.

The passage south of Danskøya brought the first polar bear sighting of the trip. A little family, mother with cub of the year, about seven months old.

Photo – Northwards – 24th July 2015 – 2/3

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Now the anchor is down on the bottom in Virgohamna, and it is calm around the ship and on board. The arctic aeronauts Andrée and Wellman add some historical flavour to the day, in theory in here and outside.

Photo – Northwards – 24th July 2015 – 3/3

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The polar fox that did obviously not care about protecting cultural heritage, walking straight across the remain from Wellman’s activities, was definitely a highlight.

Kongsfjord III – 23rd July 2015

All good things are threefold (I am sure that doesn’t translate, but that is what the German original says), so we spent a third day in Kongsfjord. Well, it wasn’t quite like that. In Krossfjord, it was so windy that we quickly decided to return to Kongsfjord, where it is currently calmer. So we went to Ny London on Blomstrandhalvøya to have a look at the old marble mine with the huts, steam drill, quarry and loading crane. Nice to see how nature is taking her terrain back again slowly. Flowers are growing through holes in the old steal machinery, like the the Drooping saxifrage.

Photo – Kongsfjord III – 23rd July 2015 – 1/3

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Later we also went for the hike to the top of Blomstrand. Fine views of the famous Kongsfjord panorama, and a very active glacier cave in Blomstrandbreen. Constantly falling ice and thunder provided excellent entertainment while we had a rest on the peak.

Photo – Kongsfjord III – 23rd July 2015 – 2/3

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Complete silence now on the boat, it is calm outside, icebergs drifting everywhere. Tomorrow, the wind should also calm down at sea, so we can continue northwards.

Photo – Kongsfjord III – 23rd July 2015 – 3/3

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Kongsfjord II – 22nd July 2015

Ossian Sarsfjellet has got more to offer than a bird cliff and flowers. On the eastern side, it has some impressive glaciers in the direct neighbourhood, and as it is not far to that side, we went for a hike acros Ossian Sarsfjellet, over tundra and rocky washout plains, stopping where we saw some reindeer, and then up a morain ridge, behind which we reached a great panorama platform in shape of a glacier-polished marble surface.

Photo Ossian Sarsfjellet – 22nd Juli 2015 – 1/2

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Countless small folds and faults, with very clear glacial striation, this alone would be a remarkable site and certainly under protection anywhere near civilization. But then there was the view over the glacier-framed bay Rødvika with ice cliffs forming large parts of the shore and wide ice fields in back country.

Photo Ossian Sarsfjellet – 22nd Juli 2015 – 2/2

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After a little, sunny cruise along icebergs and glaciers in innermost Kongsfjord, we decided to have a look at the outer coast as we want to get further north at some stage. But as it turned out, there was a strong breeze blowing at open sea, turning many waves white, so we decided to change course and spend a day in Krossfjord, which should be sheltered.

Photo Kongsfjord – 22nd Juli 2015

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Kongsfjord – 21st July 2015

What a day. Long, full and beautiful. And as it is time to finish it, this blog entry won’t be terribly long.

The scene for the day is not unknown. Kongsfjord is a classic, especially Ny Ålesund will be known to many, if not all, readers. It is, however, less common to leave the town with a hike into the fjord, rather than a walk to the harbour. The coastal tundra plains near Ny Ålesund are very inviting for some good walks.

Photo Kongsfjord – 21st Juli 2015

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The glaciers in Kongsfjord must have been very active recently. It has been quite warm the last days, the arctic summer is at its peak. There is a lot of glacier ice drifting in the water.

Photo Ossian Sarsfjellet – 21st Juli 2015 – 1/2

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The arctic flowers are in their busiest season. The vegetation is strong and plentyful here in inner Kongsfjord, with flowers in many colours.

Photo Ossian Sarsfjellet – 21st Juli 2015 – 2/2

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Also the seabirds are in their peak breading season. Brünich’s guillemots and kittiwakes are taking care of their chicks. There is an immense level of activity in the steep breeding cliffs.

Now we are calmly anchored, enjoying the evening with its beautiful light that is getting warm again, as late July isn’t far anymore.

Prins Karls Forland – 20. Juli 2015

Small ships and boats normally stay between Spitsbergen and Prins Karls Forland, keeping to the better sheltered waters of Forlandsund rather than the exposed west coast of Prins Karls Forland, where the sea can be rougher. So those who can stay inside, and those who stay outside usually do so because they don’t have any other choice. That is the bigger ships with too much draft for the shallow part in the northern Forlandsund.

Considering the good weather and calm seas that we had, we decided, however, to head for the west coast of Prins Karls Forland anyway, taking the rare opportunity of a closer inspection of the outer side of the island. First of all, it was time to catch some sleep when the anchor went down near Aitkenodden last night, before we went ashore there today. Untouched nature, almost nobody is going there. Most ships don’t have time to stop at a place like this, and if you have time, you will usually stay in Forlandsund. Better shelter. But today it was simply an opportunity too good to be missed. Advanced Spitsbergen. Staying away from the trodden path.

There is an old trapper hut at Aitkenodden, near a lake called Nesungen. The hut was built in 1909, now it is just a ruin, but in scenic surroundings, a wide coastal plain with small bays and rocky outcrops along the shoreline.

Photo Vestflya – 20th Juli 2015

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After a bit of sightseeing near the hut, we ventured across the flat tundra away from the coast. Dry moss and lichen tundra everywhere, and flat ridges of exposed shist. A reindeer mother and her calf kept a careful distance while working their way in a circle around us. After a rest, we climbed up Persiskammen which reaches an elevation of 334 metres above the sea. High enough for great views over the tundra and the coastal landscape, both very rich in detail and structure despite of being flat. We took a long rest at a cairn marking the highest point, relaxing in the sun which was shining from the blue arctic sky with an amazing strength, before descending to the eastern side of the island. Meanwhile, Pål had lifted anchor and gone around the southern point of Prins Karls Forland to meet us here in Sandbukta, so we all met there again after a lovely long hike, including the rare opportunities to climb the isolated southern mountain on Prins Karls Forland and crossing the island at the same time.

Photo Persiskammen – 20th Juli 2015

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After a quick jump into the water to get fresh again, we continued northwards. We saw about 10 walrusses lazily lying in the sun while passing Poolepynten and enjoyed sunny views of the mountains and glaciers to both sides of Forlandsund while heading towards Kongsfjord.

Advanced Spitsbergen: Arctica II – 19th Juli 2015

So far, it has been a great season, and we are about to continue on a high level. A few hours ago we left Longyearbyen with Arctica II. Twelve people including skipper Pål from Longyearbyen and me on a robust 60 foot sailing boat to experience Spitsbergen in-depth, including remote places off the trodden path. All are very eager and curious what the next 18 days will bring. It will be intense, that is for sure. With a light easterly breeze, we are now steaming through Isfjord towards the west coast to find an anchorage for the first night.

Photo Adventfjord – 19th Juli 2015

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Pyramiden – 16th Juli 2015

No Spitsbergen-trip would be complete without a visit to one of the Russian settlements, so we were in Pyramiden today. Again, luck with the weather: last night, we engined against strong wind into Billefjord, rain and sleet around midnight, and as we started our excursion today – sunshine! Someone here seems to have excellent connections to the highest places.

So we could spend some very pleasant hours with various, contrast-rich impressions in the old ghost town. And as it turned grey and wet again around noon, it just made the tea and other goodies in the bar in hotel Tulipan taste even better.

The wind in Billefjord was not as strong anymore as yesterday, but enough to let us sail all the way to the entrance of Adventfjord without the engine. A nice, calm roundup for a very rich, intense Spitsbergen-trip, which was an impressive example for a trip that was great without having gone around the island although this had been the initial idea. It is the experience that counts, and that leaves nothing to be desired. Add good atmosphere amongst passengers and crew, and you have got all ingredients for the perfect trip.

At the time of writing, Antigua has already left Longyearbyen again – and again, under sail. And we are preparing to board the local sailing yacht Arctica II today: advanced Spitsbergen 2015. This will provide plenty of stuff for this blog, so keep coming back!

Gallery Pyramiden – 16th Juli 2015

Click on thumbnail to open an enlarged version of the specific photo.

Finally, a big thanks to all participants of the Antigua-voyage and the crew of Captain Joachim for a great trip and good spirits!

Ekmanfjord – 15th Juli 2015

Isfjord is Spitsberge’s biggest fjord. I’d quite like to do a trip once that is just focussing on Isfjord. It would be easy to spend a week there. There is almost everything that you might want to see in Spitsbergen: a very diverse landscape and vegetation, flat tundra, nice mountains, glaciers, wildlife, some very interesting historical sites …

Our destination for today was Ekmanfjord. A wide tundra area offered as much space for various hikes as anyone might have wanted, so we split up into three groups venture out for a relaxed walk, a hike and a long hike. The tundra? A sea of flowers: Purple saxifrage, Mountain avens, Moss campion on wide areas, to mention just the main eye catchers. The mountains? Deep purple, gently curved slopes of Old Red in the north. Mighty steep slopes cut into amazingly regular erosional towers in the vicinity. The sun made the colours shine and the fresh wind was not just a delight, but it also blew the mosquitos away that you might otherwise actually have in this tundra of the „inner fjord zone“ on a warm summer day.

Gallery Ekmanfjord – 15th Juli 2015

Click on thumbnail to open an enlarged version of the specific photo.

A late afternoon visit in Skansbukta brought more botanical highlights including the beautiful Northern Jacob’s ladder in full flower, a group photo and some individual had been bitten by the polar bug so badly that they couldn’t resist the temptation of a bath in the cold waters of the bay. In the end, the service crew, chef Sascha, Jana, Nadia and Clara, showed what they can actually do and created a lovely dinner and evening to celebrate a great trip that is now coming to an end.

Recherchefjord – 14th Juli 2015

You can discover so much if you just take the time for it. With a small group, we went on a Zodiac trip to explore Recherchefjord in some detail. Starting in Calypsobyen, a little aggregation of old huts where coal occurrences were investigated in the early 20th century, we met some very friendly Polish scientists. Their leader Piotr Zagórski invited us for some tea and coffee and explained their work. Geomorphological fieldwork with some long-term data sets. The glaciers in the area are currently shrinking at a rate of 10 metres per year, which is a lot for glaciers that terminate on land, but are building up ice in their higher reaches. Maybe preparing a surge? Interesting. The active layer is now 1.40 metres thick, in contrast to 1.20 metres as in recent years in average. The summer has been very warm so far in Bellsund. At least, it has brought a lot of colourful flowers to the tundra.

Photo Recherchebreen – 14th Juli 2015

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After a relaxed picnic on a moraine hill near Renardbreen (Fox glacier), where colourful tillites are silent witnesses of a more or less global glaciation about 600 million years ago (snowball earth theory), the lagoon at Recherchebreen was the next temptation. The opportunity was good, the tide high, making the passage into the lagoon easy, while icebergs were taking the same channel out at an amazing speed with the current. Once inside, we enjoyed the views of the icebergs and the ice cliff of Recherchebreen silently for a while. The other group, which came hiking to this lagoon a little while later, even saw Belugas there.

Photo Calypsobyen – 14th Juli 2015

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A very wind-battered hut on the eastern shore of Recherchefjord is the only leftover from the attempts of Ernest Mansfield’s Northern Exploration Company to turn the „mountain of iron“ into cash. As it turned out, the mountains is of rock and not iron. Bad for Mansfield and his Northern Exploration company, which lost a lot of money there in 1918-19. Good for the tundra, which is flowering near the hut in the most beautiful colours.

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