The first thing I see in the morning, somewhere southeast of Senja: orange mountains under a blue sky. So beautiful! Sunrise is currently near 8 a.m. and sunset is just before 3 p.m. … the days are getting seriously shorter now! But the light can be stunning … and you don’t have to stay up and awake half the night to see a sunset. Well, there are still the northern lights to keep you awake. Hopefully.
Morning light near Senja.
This is our third day on board – time for a sailing introduction, and we can even put these skills to good use, taking advantage of an easterly breeze on our way to Harstad.
SV Antigua under sail towards Harstad.
We also made sure everybody knows how to get some good photos when we hopefully get some northern lights the next days. If you want to read a bit more about the northern lights, including some photo hints, click here.
We arrive Harstad in time around mid-day. Harstad used to be a centre of political power and culture in north Norway for many centuries, so we take a bus to nearby Trondenes to get some more impressions and information about all this. On the way there, we have the only grounding of the trip (so far, at least), but it is with the bus and not the ship, so it does not matter too much … there is plenty of road building work going on here currently.
The medieval church of Trondenes at Harstad.
After the visit to the museum and the old church with her 3 metres thick walls of stones we were ready for a little walk in the city of Harstad with all its excitements. Who would have thought that you can even find a walrus here? 🙂
Based on some information of recent sightings and a bit of optimism, we had set course northeast towards the waters around Skjerøya, at 70 degrees north. Usually we don’t get far on this trip! But considering the Orca sightings that had been made by others there in recent days, we wanted to give it a try.
We were not disappointed!
Orcas near Skjervøy.
Of course we used the opportunity to visit Skjervøy, an small island with a settlement and harbour that all bear the same name. This is where Fridtjof Nansen’s Fram finally returned to civilisation after her famous 3 year drift across the Arctic Ocean (1893-1896). Nansen himself, accompanied by Hjalmar Johansen, had famously left the ship in 1895 to reach the north pole (which did not work), so they were not on board when the Fram reached Skjervøy. A great bit of polar history, and this place was part of it. This alone was actually a good reason to visit.
Skjervøy: island, harbour, settlement.
As it turned out, there are some good hiking opportunities on Skjervøya. Currently limited as the sun is going down just before 3 p.m., but it was enough for a short walk to get some fine views of the place.
And as if this hadn’t been enough for a good day, we even got some first northern lights later the same evening! Not very strong and the photo conditions were not ideal on the moving ship, but still … northern light is northern light 🙂
The day we had been waiting for! Today everybody is coming on board and we will set sail with Antigua, travelling from Tromsø to Bodø. The last sailing voyage of the arctic season 2018. W are hoping for great light, everything that the sun may send us, both directly during the day and more indirectly during the dark hours … maybe Orcas, Sea eagles, certainly a lot of great scenery, lovely little villages and other interesting places, sailing …
Roald and Rolf in Tromsø.
But first, everybody has time to explore Tromsø; many arrived just yesterday and there is plenty to do here, especially as the weather is fine again today.
The early winter often brings a mixture of snow and rain, freezing and thawing. The result: ice on the streets. A bad luck moment on a street in Tromsø brings a broken arm and thus a very premature end of the voyage before it has even really begun for two unlucky persons (including a non-injured companion). We wish you all the best, quick and complete recovery!
In late hours, Captain Mario pushes the Antigua against a pretty strong current out of the harbour and through under the bridge. We are starting our trip to Bodø … setting course northwards!
We are about to cast lose one last time this year in the Arctic. Northern lights, beautiful scenery in stunning northern winter light conditions, Orcas – hopes are certainly high; we will see what the next week will bring. But there is still some time before we will actually set sail.
SV Antigua and Rolf in Tromsø: ready to go!
Tromsø has been the door to the Arctic for a long time and it still is. Many ships have left for hightest latitudes from here and this is where many of them came back to civilisation. So does Antigua right now, and we are meeting old friends such as MS Stockholm and SV Noorderlicht.
SV Antigua next to MS Stockholm in the harbour ofTromsø.
Of course there is always something to do before a ship can leave port. I take my hat as an arctic author and soon I can smile: my guidebook Spitsbergen-Svalbard is now available for sale at Polaria in Tromsø, in all three languages!
It is a beautiful day with a clear sky and lovely light. Hopefully we get more of this next week, that would make some people happy! We even get a northern light above Tromsø. Not very strong and fainting next to all the artificial light and the almost full moon. But it is a start, fingers crossed for more soon!
Weak northern light above Tromsø.
There is also time to visit a place that may almost be counted as part of Spitsbergen’s cultural heritage: Mack’s Ølhalle. This famous beer hall belongs to Mack’s brewery, founded in 1877, and it used to be the first place to go for famous winterers such as “Polar Bear king” Henry Rudi and others, who refuelled here after a long arctic winter, spending the earnings of many hard and cold months in weeks or even just days. Henry Rudi’s place is still marked with a sign that has got his name!
Mack’s Ølhalle in Tromsø: Henry Rudi, the famous “polar bear king”, and other arctic winterers refuelled here after a year in the Arctic.
I don’t want to leave a lasting impression as Henry Rudi, who almost seems to have lived here during his short summer visits to Tromsø, my visit was a bit shorter.
Macks Ølhalle in Tromsø was called Henry Rudi’s office. You could rely to find him here in his days.
The times are currently mostly calm in Longyearbyen and Spitsbergen otherwise. There, is, of course, always something that catches public attention. The phaseout of coal mining in Sveagruva and the clearup of a whole little settlement is a discussion and will remain so for quite some time. Some buildings may be protected as part of Spitsbergen’s cultural heritage, others will probably be removed. The question of potential further use of the infrastracture in Sveagruave, within science, tourism or whatever, is still largely open. The only thing that is clear is that the whole project will cost a lot of money, just as opening the mine at Lunckefjellet, which has never seen anything but years of costly standby operations between opening and shutting down the mine.
Sveagruva: a mining settlement in phaseout.
A woman in Longyearbyen is accused for having thrown a stone at a guest of Huset (a popular pub/disco/night club) during a late hour visit in March. The man received minor injuries.
A helicopter had to rescue to students from Sarkofagen, a mountain close to Longyearbyen. The two hikers had ventured into a steep slope and were unable to move any further or back.
The mountain Sarkofagen close to Longyearbyen.
Things that happen in a little arctic village after the end of the busy summer season, at the onset of the polar night. Most make themselves comfortable at home, taking care of normal everyday business and enjoying calm days as it is getting darker outside.
But not everybody can enjoy cosy evenings at home. The housing market in Longyearbyen has been difficult for years. There are several reasons for this, including avalanches which have rendered whole streets unsuitable for living in recent years. Airbnb is another issue, that makes some homes unavailable to long-term residents in need of housing. This has happened in many places in the world, but in Longyearbyen, you can’t just move to the next village somewhere near town and commute to work. At least, an important houseowner has recently announced that he does not want to rent flats out through Airbnb. Investor Fredrik Eken told Svalbardposten that his 84 flats in Longyearbyen will not be available on the mentioned platform for reasons economical rather than political or ethical.
Many flats and houses in Longyearbyen are owned by major institutions and employers such as the Sysselmannen, municipal administration, UNIS and others who need to offer housing to their employees, which is understandable but at the same time making a significant proportion of the local housing market unavailable to the public.
The local administration has done hers to make the situation more difficult, at least for some, than might be necessary. In Longyearbyen, there is a number of houses, most of them in “Sjøområdet” close to the fjord, which have flats. These flats are, however, not approved for permanent use, but rather for leisure use only. Some of these “leisure time flats” (fritidsbolig, as they are called in Norwegian) have, however, been used more or less permanently for years. In recent years, the local administration including the fire department have pushed to take more drastic measures to kick people out of these flats. Last week, representatives of the local administration and the fire department went on an unheralded control mission to some houses in question, as Svalbardposten reported. This led to 6 persons losing their accommodation on a short warning: they were given 24 hours to move out.
The area called “Sjøområdet” in Longyearbyen. Six people were recently removed from flats that are not approved for permanent use.
Reasons given for such rather drastic measures are mainly fire safety, followed by the missing approval for using the houses for permanent living in the use zoning plan.
It will not surprise that this approach is met by criticism and desparation amongst those concerned. Those who lived in these houses for years knew that their prolonged stay was not legal, but it was not a matter of choice for some at least. The private housing market does simply not provide affordable accommodation. Some of the 6 currently concerned will have to stay at friends’ places, becoming what is locally referred to as “sofa people”. Possibilities to find an affordable place to live in Longyearbyen on a long-term basis? Do hardly exist.
Considering this, the current approach of the municipal administration to remove people from flats that are at least approved for short-time use appears controversial. The administration has announced further controls as needed.
Fire safety can be taken care of by technical measures, and a use zoning plan is a matter of political decision making. The administration has at least announced to start a process that may include possibilities to legalize the practice.
Sounds extremely promising, doesn’t it? But it won’t help those who need a place to stay there and now. The polar night is coming, and Longyearbyen is a very dark and cold place during the winter.
The guidebook Spitsbergen-Svalbard, available in English, Norwegian and German, is the most comprehensive Spitsbergen book available. It is used by tourists as well as professional guides and expedition leaders, who often refer to it as the “Spitsbergen bible”. A wording that may seem to be quite far-reaching, but the author (Rolf Stange) is happy to take it as a compliment to the book.
The 6th edition of the German guidebook Spitzbergen-Svalbard is now available The English and Norwgian versions were also updated recently and remain available.
As with the Norwegian and English versions, the new German edition has been comprehensively updated in almost all chapters, with improved text, maps etc. For further information, please visit the page dedicated to the German guidebook Spitzbergen-Svalbard on this website, where you can also order the book. It is also available on Amazon.de. Orders through this websites and reviews on Amazon (also for the English or Norwegian versions) will make the author happy.
The author with the new, 6th edition of Spitzbergen-Svalbard (German).