Back on the west coast! It is good to have the south cape behind us; it is always a bit of a milestone and a potential obstacle, at least for a sailing boat where weather is a major factor especially for long open water passages.
With the easterly wind still prevailing, we dropped the anchor just off the west coast south of Hornsund – a coast well of the trodden path, for good reason: it is a very exposed coast with a lot of nasty shallows, so staying away from this coast is usually the best thing to do. But on this day this coast was our friend, giving us shelter from the wind and offering us great hiking opportunities in exciting areas.
Now the thing was to make miles and use the relatively good weather window for the long passage around the south cape. Especially on a smaller, relatively slow boat, it is good to be mentally prepared for a day at sea without any landings on this day. And if it works out to make a landing – all the better. We got our chance in Hambergbukta. That is the bay on the east coast of Spitsbergen exactly opposite Hornsund, where the glaciers are melting like crazy so there may be a passage between Hambergbukta and Hornsund in some years from now. A fast and scary development due to climate change, which is progressing and getting faster and more intense.
Nevertheless, we enjoyed the morning, with weather conditions that can adequately be described as arctic. Terrain, time and conditions did not permit longer hikes, but some fascinating close-up views of a glacier and its surroundings landscape.
Then it was time to proceed to and around Sørkapp, something that took the rest of the day and a good part of the following night and went with moderate movement of the ship and the use of both engine and sails.
Gallery – Hambergbukta & Sørkapp, 13th July 2023
Drone photography can be fun and it can open a whole new perspective on the world. But there are rules, a fact that seems to be unknown to many. This includes a no flight zone of 5 km around the airport of Longyearbyen. Most of Longyearbyen is actually located within this no flight zone, something many seem to be unaware of, or they decide to ignore it. This is forbidden and it can be expensive: recently, several tourists got their drones confiscated and fines of 12,000 kroner – and it might even be more, depending on the individual case.
Flying a drone Svalbard: principally possible – but there are rules.
Also this day didn’t work out quite as planned. Thick fog all over the place, it just didn’t make sense to cruise towards Bråsvellbreen. We rather made use of the time to make some mile the way we have to sail anyway, to the south. At some stage, we just have to make these miles.
I wouldn’t have placed a bet on it, but actually, we still found the opportunity to make not only one landing on this day, but two. Not the longest hikes ever, but two interesting landings in place where you certainly get to every day. Obviously, you don’t go for long hikes on an island like Kiepertøya when there is fog in the area and you know the next polar bear isn’t too far away. You rather stay close to the boats that you keep ready on the beach, ready for take-off at any time as needed. And enjoy the beauty of a little peninsula and lagoon on a little, remote, wild arctic island. There is a dramatic story connected this place (click here for more pictures and info about Kiepertøya).
Later we even managed to make a rare landing at Kapp Ziehen, the northeast corner of Barentsøya. Also definitely not an everyday place. And it looks and is different from Barentsøya and Edgeøya elsewhere. It is more polar desert like, more closely related to the barren land of southern Nordaustland, for example in Vibebukta. That is no coincidence, that has to do with the geology.
Gallery – Kiepertøya & Kapp Ziehen, 12th July 2023
Things started with a good hike on Idunneset, a little peninsula in Wahlenbergfjord, framed by huge glaciers of the ice cap Vestfonna. A stunning panorama. Actually, we had a different idea for the morning, that’s just what happened. Weather, as so often in these latitudes.
Later, we headed for Palanderbukta, but we never got there. Two polar bears – a mother with her second year cub – literally crossed our way, really kind of approaching us and actively blocking our course … amazing! Obviously, the two had a great time together in the water.
It was almost good not to see the blue sky in the morning. It was pretty grey, with low clouds. Of course, who would mind sun and blue skies, but we had had so much of that the last couple of days, and this is still the high arctic, with a bad reputation for unpleasant weather, wind and fog … today we got a bit of that.
Not enough, however, to keep us from getting out and making a good hike in the polar desert landscape of northwestern Nordaustland. A seemingly empty landscape, but very rich with all sorts of interesting details on a closer look.
In the afternoon, the fog really settled down on Hinlopen Strait, so we set sails and made some miles to the south. Later, we reached Alkefjellet, this amazing colony of Brünich’s guillemots. Another beautiful day, even without getting sunburnt.
We gave it an early start to reach the ice edge north of Hinlopen during the morning. The weather was fantastic (again …). And so was this day in the ice. Just amauzing! What can I say … well, have a look at the pictures 🙂
It is always lovely when the ship is at anchor during the night. Very quiet. That was the case that night in Vesle Raudfjord, on the north coast of Spitsbergen.
After yesterday’s hikes, it was good to start the day with a beach walk. Relaxed, but full with interesting impressions.
Later, we had the opportunity to stretch legs again and get some stunning views over Reinsdyrflya. A wonderful, wide-open landscape … by the way, this area was part of the hunting grounds of Stockholm Sven, a Swedish (well, obviously) trapper who was a neighbour of Christiane Ritter who mentioned him in her book. Now, there is a books about Stockholm Sven available: “The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven”. I have already got it and I am looking forward to reading it.
Crossing 80 degrees rounded the day off.
Gallery – Vesle Raudfjord and Velkomstvarden, 07th July 2023
The day got an early start when the crew sighted a polar bear on Amsterdamøya at 5 a.m. What a glorious sighting! In the end, the bear swam towards the ship and passed us in a distance of a few metres. That is not an everyday thing, not at all.
Later, the day started again 🙂 in Raudfjord. Again, right place, right time … amazing weather! We made some beautiful hikes. Those who wanted to could venture on a crossing of Biskayarhalvøya.
Once again, we were in the right place at the right time. Not only because the weather was on our side (again!) in Kongsfjord, but also because we had Ny-Ålesund to ourselves – regarding other ships, that is. Great!
Later, it was Ossian Sarsfjellet. What an afternoon! Some beautiful and very rare plants, a bird cliff, stunning views … it couldn’t be more beautiful!
The day startet with a little hike on a peninsula with amazing views of a huge glacier. What a morning!
It was to become even better. Further north in Forlandsund we found walruses. More than one hundred of them! They were quite sleepy, which could understand, considering the unusually warm weather.
A couple of whales in the entrance to Kongsfjord, including several Fin whales and at least one Blue whale, rounded the day off.
Whoever came up with this name, “Trygghamna”, or “Safe harbour”, as it originally was in the years of the whalers … they must have been kidding.
We thought we were well anchored and were looking forward to a good night’s sleep, but the strong gusts that kept falling alternatingly from the glacier on one side or the mountains on the other side kept us busy, lifting the anchor and repositioning several tiems during the night. Also the morning landing was quickly scrapped, with the view of williwhirls dancing on the water. Welcome to the Arctic.
Time to set sails. More than nine knots as we went out of Isfjord … not bad at all!
Also Forlandsund was quite windy to start with, but then we found a good place in Eidembukta and went hiking across the green tundra plain, following a river and up some moraine hills with stunning views.
Gallery – From Trygghamna to Eidembukta, 03rd July, 2023
Adventdalen – or, to be more precice: its lower part – is to become a nature reserve. The proposal is now in the public hearing stage, available on the Sysselmester’s website. Until 15 October, all interested parties, organisations as well as individual persons, can give their input.
The process is about an area of 62 square kilometres, mainly tundra and the wide riverbed.
Adventdalen is one of Spitsbergen’s largest ice-free valleys with huge tundra areas and wetlands, that provide various habitats to a range of animal and plant species, including a number of rare ones. The protection of these habitats is the primary goal of the legal proposal.
The current proposal would, for most, not include significant changes, and that is probably exactly its point: to propose the current status quo. New infrastructure such as new roads, ways or buildings would be impossible. Existing buildings such as huts will enjoy grandfathering, including the possibility for minor repairs. Measures to maintain Isdammen (the drinking water lake) shall remain possible.
Tundra habitat in Adventdalen, here with mountain avens in flower.
The proposal does not include much in terms of restrictions for those who are on tour in the area, both private and guided tours. Most traffic is coming in shape of snow mobiles, obvioulsy during the winter season. Snow mobiles (and other motorised traffic) is, already now, only permitted on frozen, snow-covered ground (comment: controls on this might well be a bit stricter). These areas are used by birds only when the snow-melt has advanced quite a bit, so both uses, snow mobiles (and skiers, dog sledges …) are naturally separated in time, solving conflicts before they might come up.
Other kind of traffic on wheels will not be permitted on ground that is not snow-covered. This corresponds largely to today’s regulations and practice. It might, to some degree, limit the range of FatBikes which sometimes use dry river beds that are not covered by any vegetation.
Red-necked phalaropes in Adventdalen:
one of the more unusual species that can be found here.
As of today, dogs must be on a lead when outside. This is planned to become a bit stricter in the future, when leads must not be longer than 5 m during the breeding season.
Air traffic is to be restricted: no flights lower than 300 m, no landing, except SAR services and police or by special permission. The ban on flying will include drones in the new nature reserve.
The legal proposal is now in the hearing stage until 15 October 2023. After that, the law text will continue its journey through the institutions before it eventually may be turned into valid law.
One may get the impression that the proposed sanctuary / law will not change a lot. This is indeed the case, and this is good: based on the insight that the given status quo is actually pretty good – by far most of the area in question is intact, largely untouched arctic nature – the point is exactly to preserve the status quo. Activities that do not endanger the given status shall remain possible, even when some who quickly come up with strong opinions would rather prefer comprehensive bans on all sorts of activities, especially various sorts of traffic. There were not just a few in Longyearbyen who had feared exactly that in the upcoming Lower Adventdalen nature reserve, which until now is a very important area for snow mobile traffic – in the winter season, but not during the breeding season. Good thing that those who are in charge of the law proposal have realised this. There is no need to solve problems at the public’s expense if they just don’t exist.
Obviously, there are kinds of motorised traffic in Adventdalen, be it touristic, private or of any other sort, which one does not necessarily have to be fond of. But it needs more than that to justify far-reaching regulations. Comprehensive bans on activities that are important for many need to be well-founded. Not liking something is not good enough.
But what may easily put the environment – habitat, species diversity, … – at risk, such as new infrastructure and other significant artificial terrain changes, will not be possible anymore.
It is good to see that relevant institutions still today apparently are able to have a closer look at the local reality to understand the real needs of environmental protection, while listening to locals and others, wherever relevant, and not make peoples’ lives difficult without any real reason.