A Norwegian court has delivered a judgement in the case of a man who disturbed polar bears in Billefjorden earlier this year by driving on the fjord ice by car.
The 58 year old Ukrainian citizen was living and working in Pyramiden. He went out on the fjord ice by car to pick up two colleagues who had been on tour. Instead of going directly back to Pyramiden, they decided to take a turn into neighbouring Petuniabukta to check the condition of a hut. According to the driver, he was not aware of the presence of two polar bears who were mating at the time in question. He saw the bears at a distance of 50 metres and stopped immediately. The polar bears abandoned their mating.
Polar bear family on fjord ice in Isfjord.
The Ukrainian driver did not have a driver’s license, this had been withdrawn by Norwegian authorities earlier this year because of other traffic offences. According to the Sysselmannen, this contributed to the current court judgement, together with the fact that it is generally not allowed to drive a car on fjord ice (or anywhere else other than on roads) in Spitsbergen. Disturbing of the polar bears alone would not have been sufficient for a prison sentence.
The man was sentenced to 30 days of prison without probation.
We arrive in Trollfjorden thanks to an early start in Svolvær. Trollfjorden is one of the most scenic places in Lofoten. Mother nature must have had a great time when she made this part of the planet during the ice age.
Having a great time – that’s also what we did there and then. It could not have been better, completely calm, dry, clear visibility up to the highest peaks. We did not hesitate to put the Zodiacs on the water and cruise Trollfjorden, enjoying the landscape while being in the middle of it.
SV Antigua in Trollfjord.
It got even better when the sails went up on Antigua and the crew went all up on the job beam for a crew photo. Priceless!
The crew of SV Antigua in Trollfjord. Thank you all for a great season up north!
Captain Mario used the good conditions to fulfill a dream and go wakeboarding in these northern waters, to the great pleasure of everybody around 🙂
Captain Mario wakeboarding in Raftsund.
Later, we even made it to Skrova in good daylight and did not waste any time. The mountains, hills and beaches were calling, and we made good use of the remaining daylight time before the sun went down and the rain came. That did not bother us anymore, we had had a great day out there and continued and good spirits inside.
We decide to spend some more time in Tranøy, it is too nice here to leave without having seen it in daylight. As mentioned, you can walk to the lighthouse. It is a walk of several kilometres, but perfectly easy walking and definitely worth it, it is a lovely place on the shore of Vestfjord. Quite windy here today.
The lighthouse on Tranøy.
There are sculptures and various pieces of art all over Tranøy. A new sculpture is added every year. You can find them anywhere in the landscape, something that is carved into rocks, flowers of granite, whatever. So you can spend a lovely time walking around, always discovering something. Figures watching out across Vestfjorden, the wind eye, and so on. Beautiful stuff. Some real art, including some stuff that a simple guide like me does not understand rightaway … I was wondering what all the black plates with kind of irregular white crosses were, on the rocks near the shore. Later I found out that there had been photos on the plates, but they had removed the photos. The white crosses were remains of the glue and not art. Well.
Sculpture on Tranøy.
Later we went across Vestforden under sail. Wind and waves – the wind direction was just good enough to put some sails up.
Handling sails on Antigua while crossing Vestfjorden to Lofoten.
We had great hopes for the evening, wondering if the Northern light centre of Therese and Rob in Laukvik would live up to its name and reputation. Of course we knew that we would get a lot of information about northern lights, but the real thing, the actual Aurora borealis? Yes, we were lucky! The sky was clear, and we got two waves of activity. That made a lot of people happy! There had been activity also during the last days, but what does it help without a clear sky … talk about being in the right place at the right time!
Northern light at the Northern light centre in Laukvik, Lofoten.
We are at the bottom of Vestfjord today – that is the sea area between the Norwegian mainland and Lofoten – in the area that is called „Ofoten“. The “L” of “Lofoten” is missing here, we’ll get that tomorrow, a bit further to the west.
Tysfjorden is Norway’s deepest fjords, with depth down to almost 900 metres. The ice-age glaciers have almost cut Norway into two parts. There is no more than 6 kilometres of land between the coast and Sweden.
Icicles next to the path on Skarberget.
Captain Mario gets the Antigua alongside at the jetty in the little harbour of Skarberget with an impressive maneouvre. We follow the road for a little bit, than a way into the forest and finally a path between small trees and over mosses, lichens and bare rocks, up a ridge. There is ice on the rocks in some places, so it is quite slippery and we have to be careful.
View from Skarberget over Tysfjorden.
But the view of Tysfjorden from Skarberget is absolutely worth it. It is cold and windy and it is getting more and more grey and wet, so it is nice to get back to Antigua after a few hours.
The clouds are breaking up as we continue, and the low sun casts spectactular light over the islands and mountains around us.
Evening light in Ofoten – directly after lunch.
In dwindling daylight and a stiff breeze it is again an impressive bit of seamanship as Captain Mario maneouvres good old Antigua into the little harbour of Tranøy. This is a little settlement in the northern part of Hamarøy. As many as 53 people lived here in 2012. There are some sculptures hidden in various places in Tranøy.
Sculpture in Tranøy.
It is a good walk across the peninsula to the lighthouse and it is almost dark as I finally get there. Unfortunately the cloud cover is pretty much closed again and it even starts to rain, so there is little hope for northern lights tonight.
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).
Most people will never have the chance to visit the famous Svalbard Global Seed Vault beyond a glimpse of the entrance from outside. Colloquially also known as “doomsday vault”, it is used since 2008 to store seeds of food crops to make sure the species survive even when all other stocks are destroyed by natural or man-made ecological disasters or war.
The inside of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is, however, closed to the public. Only those who are working there, some VIP visitors and media teams, on certain dates and with prior registration, get inside. During a media visit in 2016, I had the rare chance to photograph the Seed Vault including 360 degree panoramas, which can now be seen on this page (click here). Parts of the Seed Vault are currently under renovation.
Yet another beautiful, sunny day! We just keep enjoying. More about „calm“ later.
Some of us have a bit of a slow start into the day, but after breakfast we take off to explore Barentsburg. With some minor adjustments of the route, we even manage to spend almost the whole morning in sunshine! A very interesting visit and a strong visual contrast to our arctic experiences so far.
Michelle van Dijk in Barentsburg, sharing her knowledge of the Dutch history of the place.
Lovely day in Barentsburg.
Lenin some 12 hours later and in different light (compare to yesterday’s blog).
Later we set course across Isfjord to say goodbye and farewell to Spitsbergen’s beautiful nature in Ymerbukta, but things are changing and so are our plans. The wind is picking up, the next days are supposed to bring pretty stormy weather and we get a first taste of it today. Nothing serious so far, but there is a risk that we may not be able to go alongside in Longyearbyen in the evening if we get there too late so we change course or Adventfjorden. Well, we have enjoyed so much of Spitsbergen’s beauty in the last couple of days that we can really relax and look forward to civilisation.
Continued later – indeed, the wind had picked up considerably as we sailed into Adventfjord and going alongside was a challenge. We were all happy once the last mile was really done!
Sailing into a dust storm while entering Adventfjord.
Dust storm over Adventfjord.
A stunningly beautiful voyage is coming to an end – unforgettable! Big thanks to everybody here, Captain Kevin and his crew on board SV Antigua, my colleagues Michelle van Dijk and Alexander Lembke and of course all our fellow polar travellers who contributed to the good experience and spirits on board and on the tundra!
Yet another beautiful, calm, sunny day! One can only wonder and enjoy.
The little island of Hermansenøya is lying in the middle of Forlandsund. Wherever the eye wanders there is beauty, both far away, such as the mountains and glaciers of Spitsbergen and Prins Karls Forland, and closer, from the rugged coastal rocks to the little miracles that frost and ice create in the tundra.
Icy scenic details on Hermansenøya (I).
Kleine, feine Dinge im Eis auf der Hermansenøya (II).
Icy scenic details on Hermansenøya (III).
More icy scenic details on Hermansenøya: Flechten.
Even more scenic details on Hermansenøya: last flowers of the Tufted saxifrage in snow and ice.
In the afternoon we continued southwards along the west coast of Spitsbergen. One of the most beautiful bits of landscape if you ask me! It’s not so much the postcard beauty, like icebergs and glaciers, that many associate with the Arctic, it’s more subtle. A wide plain with a very rocky, immensely beautiful coastline and very rich tundra with plenty of reindeer. What a beautiful part of the planet! And we are lucky to be able to spend some time here, this area is pretty exposed.
Hidden bay in southern Forlandsund.
Wide tundra plain on Spitsbergen’s west coast (Daudmannsøyra).
Coastal landscape in southern Forlandsund.
Reindeer eating ice.
SV Antigua near the rocky coast in Forlandsund.
We went alongside in Barentsburg later in the evening. Rumours went later that it was a bit of a late night for some.
Lenin in evening light in Barentsburg. It is nice that dark nights are coming back now!
Spitsbergen’s coolest bar: the second-northernmost brewery in the world in Barentsburg.
It is hard to believe, but the weather remains faultlessly beautiful. Hardly a cloud in the sky, gentle frost in the morning, no wind worth mentioning.
It is time to stretch legs a bit. Solanderfjellet is tempting with stunning views over Raudfjorden.
View over Raudfjorden
We continue through Fuglefjord, filled with ice from the mighty Svitjodbreen.
In the evening we turn into Kobbefjorden on Danskøya. This is where sealing ships used to leave mail for the mainland in the past – there is no letter or postcard in the cairn here today, the tradition seems to vanish in the haze of history. This is also where Torgeir Simonsen and Harald Møkleby ended up after their icy Odyssey in 1922 to die tragically a few months later. We, in contrast, can enjoy the deep-red colours of the sunset and a number of very curious harbour seals before we continue south on a flat-calm sea.
The weather is almost scary. Blue sky, cold, clear air.
The further we sail into Liefdefjord, the more ice is drifting on the water. We cruise slowly between the smaller bergy bits and larger icebergs.
The mountains and glaciers are shining in the sun. The landscape is culminating near Monacobreen and Seligerbreen, the large glaciers in Liefdefjord. A symphony of glaciers and water, blue ice and blue sky, strong colours and sharp mirror images.
In the Liefdefjord the large glaciers Monacobreen and Seligerbreen impress.
In Woodfjord, we find a polar bear family, so we spend the afternoon with wildlife watching rather than tundra hiking. A mother with two first year cubs, all of them well-fed and in good shape. Lovely to see.
Well fed: Polar bear family, Kapp Auguste Viktoria
They follow the coastline as polar bears frequently do, swim a bit in the fjord and then back to the shore, while the sun is casting red light on the red landscape. An incredible picture.