Posted by: tim ellis | July 30, 2016

Svalbard – Saturday 30th July 2016 – Longyearbyen

Svarlbad Museum

Everything needs to be packed up, and bills settled as we leave for the last time. We are to get a tour of Longyearbyen, followed by lunch in the Radissson Blue hotel – Hannah says many of the expedition staff may try and join us there . Just before we leave, however, she announces a change in plan means she will now be returning to the UK with us as the engine problems have forced the cancellation of the next trip.

We set out in two busses – ours goes first to the museum. It is a bright sunny morning, and we park right outside, so to save carriage, several people leave coats on the bus. The museum is shut, and, according to the sign, isn’t due to open for another hour. Although it bright and sunny, the wind is still quite chilly, so we get back on the bus… Fortunately someone soon comes and lets us in. The Museum tells of the history, geology and ecology of the archipeligo. It isn’t huge, but does have a gift shop!

Longyearbyen

From the museum we travel out of town to see the “Warning – Polar Bears Crossing” traffic sign – unlike most signs which have a red border around a white sign with a black symbol, this one has a white bear on a black background. We continue past the sign to Camp Barentz for coffee and a chance to see some teams of sledge dogs

Longyearbyen Airport

Finally lunch at the Radsison, and shopping in the nearby shops before heading up to the Airport – we are there in plenty of time, and, since it is a charter flight, don’t need tickets. However what we did need was the company to have sent the official passenger manifest to the airport, which doesn’t seem to have happened. Hannah eventually sorts them out and we are able to depart only slightly later than scheduled…

Posted by: tim ellis | July 29, 2016

Svalbard – Friday 29th July 2016 – Poolepynten

Poolepynten
This morning is slightly overcast and quite windy.  Hannah was hoping there would be Walrus on the beach – but there is only a skeleton.  Despite the wind, we will still be going ashore, although we are warned it may get “a bit choppy” on the way back.  Spook is ready nice and early, so gets on the second zodiac out.  They have just landed when the decision is taken to abort, as the wind is getting stronger. (And yes, the ride back is quite choppy!)

 
Blue Whale
We hope for better conditions this afternoon, and indeed the wind drops and the clouds lift as the day progresses. However the ship’s engine has started to overheat, so our progress is slowed and our arrival at Longyearbyen is delayed, leaving us on the ship all day. – We do however get the bonus of a Blue Whale showing up just after lunch.

 Longyearbyen

Posted by: tim ellis | July 28, 2016

Svalbard – Thursday 28th July 2016 – Isbjørnhamna

Arctic Tern
No fog this morning, although as often seems to be the case, low lying cloud is obscuring the tops of mountains. We sail up the fjord to the glacier at the top end, where we take a zodiac cruise, looking at some interestingly shaped icebergs and the glacier face.  A couple of Ivory Gulls are flying about and there are several Arctic Terns on an iceberg, but little other wildlife.

 Ivory Gull

This afternoon’s excursion is close to a Polish research station, which we see, but do not visit, instead trekking inland up a stony valley to a Little Auk nesting site.  A few people, on looking at the terrain, opt instead for another zodiac cruise – which may have been a good choice on their part, as they get a close encounter with some Beluga. We see them from about a mile away up the hillside, but persuading people the small dots in the photos are really whales may prove tricky!  We do see the Auks in abundance, however, and a couple of reindeer, one quite close and the other on top of the mountain, beautifully silhouetted against the sky.  There is also a very dark Arctic Fox which wanders through the bird colony.
Little Auks at Isbjørnhamna
 

Alex takes us on a “mini cruise” on the way back to the ship, via the glacier in the next bay.  The Beluga were here earlier, but have obviously moved on.  There is a large iceberg which cracks noisily, causing some of the passengers to jump, and a large lump of ice that calves off the glacier before we return to the ship.  The last party who return to the ship reveal that the iceberg has now split into three, with a large piece of ice erupting to the surface close to where we were when we heard it crack!

 Iceberg - Isbjørnhamna

Tonight is the Captain’s farewell dinner, with lots of thanks to all the Crew and Staff.  The desert is listed as “Baked Alaska on Parade” – which turns out to be several baked alaskas, complete with Roman candles and sparklers, leading a parade of all the kitchen and restaurant staff, who get a (well deserved) round of applause.

Posted by: tim ellis | July 27, 2016

Svalbard – Wedneday 27th July 2016 – Boltodden

Boltodden
A rather foggy morning when we first get up, although clearing slightly after breakfast, allowing us to go ashore (although the “Long Walk” is cancelled).  The “Medium to  Short Walk” sets out along the beach past Red Throated Divers and an abandoned hut to see Eider and Long-Tailed Ducks.  Some people then return to the ship, while the rest of us (joined by the “Medium to Long” walkers set off in the opposite direction to see some wind-carved rock formations, encountering Snow Bunting, Purple Sand Piper and Long Tailed Skua on the way.  All in all quite a long walk with a bit of a climb involved!

 
Snow Bunting - Boltodden

Hannah announces at lunch that we will be later arriving at this afternoon’s location than orriginally envisaged, so she will allow us an “Offical Afternoon Nap”.

 

The fog has been on and off all day , and is quite close again at Hamburgbukta, so we will just be zodiac cruising rather than landing. The cruise is best described as “Atmospheric”  – visibility is quite low – we do find a Bearded Seal on an iceberg, but he slips into the water and vanishes before anyone can get close enough for a good view. Even the glcaier is elusive in the fog, and it is only thanks to the GPS readings that we can find the ship again on our return.  Expedition time and the ships timetable have not meshed well this afternoon – the bar staff were laying out tea when we left, and have tidiesd it away before we return!
Kittiwakes

There is more entertainment after dinner (by which time either the fog has lifted, or we have sailed out of it) when a call suddenly comes over the intercom that several large Whales have been sighted.  It turns out to be a large group of Fin Whales, maybe 15-20 animals, all feeding around the ship, including one that occasionally shows us tail flukes.
FIn Whales

Posted by: tim ellis | July 26, 2016

Svalbard – Tuesday 26th July 2016 – Nordaustland

Brünnich's Guillemot, Alkefjellet
We have entered the Hinlopen channel between Spitsbergen and Nordaustland in the early hours of the morning, and are in the zodiacs at 8:00 for a cruise along some impressive bird cliffs – the skies are black with Guillemots, who are the main inhabitants, although there are a few Kittiwakes and the occasional Glaucous Gull amongst them. (A lone Great Skua also flies past us at one stage). We also see an Arctic Fox quite close to the shore. He appears to have an injured hind leg, but it doesn’t seem to slow him down significantly as he climbs amongst the rocks in search of food.
Arctic Fox at Alkefjellet

There are a number of waterfalls created by the melting snow, but at the end of the cliff there is a river flowing over the glacier and forming a major torrent, discolouring the sea as the sediment is deposited at the base of the cliff.

Polar Bear at Torellneset

Back on board the ship we make good time towards our afternoon location, even allowing for a stop to view a sleeping polar bear – he awakes briefly and looks up at us before settling down again.

 

After lunch we are supposed to be landing for walks and Walrus viewing.  All the “Long Walk” people disembark first, and the “Medium Walk” are just starting to get ito the zodiacs when then advance party spot a bear – it seems to be asleep, and a long way back, but the safety rules say “No Landing if there is a Bear”.  The Governor of Svalbard’s boat is in the bay, so even if we wanted to break the rules (which we don’t!)  now would not be the time to do it!

Who's Watching Who?

There are plenty of Walrus on the beach and in the water however, so we cruise along the shore taking photos.

 

We sail past the Brasvelbreen glacier just before dinner, and while out on deck we are treated to the sight of a Humpback Whale feeding, aqccompanied by a flock of Kittiwakes taking advantage of the fish he was driving to the surface.

Humpback Whale
At about 12:30 AM  as the boat enters the Freemansundet the tannoy goes off to announce several Polar Bears on the shore.  They are on the side of a mountain, which, annoyingly, has the sub behind it, making viewing difficult in the glare, but becoming easier as we move along the cliff.  There are at least seven bears, possibly more, spread along the mountain, either walking or resting.  As we get to the end of the cliff , the captain circles the boat back around to give people a second chance to spot them all.

Posted by: tim ellis | July 25, 2016

Svalbard – Monday 25th July 2016 – Sea Ice

Polar Bear
We are awoken at around 2:30 am by Hannah on the tannoy, announcing the first sighting a Polar bear swimming ahead of the ship.  A quick scramble into clothes ensues, followed by a mustering on the forward observation deck.  The bear is swimming along the ice front, so it takes everyone a little time to spot.  Gradually more and more people find it, and help point it out to others. Just the head is visible, but once you have found it, it is easy to keep tracking its progress.  Eventually though, it climbs out onto the ice floe, albeit briefly, when it becomes much more obvious.  It returns to the water, swims to the next floe, then climbs out again.  He remains out for longer this time, allowing for better (and given the ships movement) closer viewing.

Polar Bear
The weather was quite good, if cold and windy while we were watching the bear, by breakfast there is a sea mist and the ice we are sailing along is barely visible. Eventually it clears, and calm conditions allow for a zodiac cruise along the ice edge – including a chance to get out and stand on ice floe at 81o04’ North.  There is not much wildlife in evidence – a couple of Kittiwake and a Skua, then just before we return to the ship, a young inquisitive Harp Seal

In the Sea Ice
We continue to cruise North East along the ice edge until mid-afternoon when we turn back South again, but wildlife remains scarce – we do see a Bearded Seal hauled out on the ice, but he is quite away off from the boat.

Bearded Seal
Hannah gives us a Polar Bear talk as part of the briefly this evening, which includes some photos of this morning’s bear, which she has now decided (after reviewing the pictures) was probably a young male.

Posted by: tim ellis | July 24, 2016

Svalbard – Sunday 24th July 2016 – Smeerenberg

The Serinissima

According to last night’s briefing, we were due to sail at around 5:30 this morning to arrive in the next fjord over breakfast, so it’s a bit of a surprise to discover we are still in the same place we were last night. Pierre makes an announcement in the restaurant: – (1) The PA is not working, and (2) There has been a change of plan. We are going to do a zodiac tour straight after breakfast to see the walrus here. No sooner are we all ready to go when the walrus decide to take off, so we revert back to plan A. – At least the PA gets fixed (It turns out that one of the wires had come loose).

Beluga

On the voyage up, an announcement is made that some Beluga have been sighted off the Port bow. We rush forward to see . . . nothing; they are now astern on the Starboard side. We race back around the ship to see blows, and some rolling backs as they disappear behind us.

When we arrive at Smeerenberg there are five Walrus backed up on the beach, so we will get our Walrus encounter after all. Or at least, we hope so, as they retreat into the water as soon as the first zodiac comes ashore. Fortunately they hang around wallowing in the shallows, so everyone gets the chance to see them. Also here is the northernmost colony of Harbour Seal, which also retreat to the water as soon as the first boat approaches, but again don’t go far, and they soon return to basking.

Walrus

There is also plenty of bird life on the beach. Lots of Arctic Tern, who are busy trying to chase us off, and some Red Throated Divers, which in keeping with the theme, fly off when we approach.

The weather has clouded over when we get to this afternoons site at Raudfjord, where we are doing a zodiac cruise (no landing) to see the glacier. On the way out we manage to find some Arctic Fox – pale adults and darker cubs. We cruise through the Ice, returning to the ship as it starts to rain.

Arctic Fox

From here we are heading North to the sea ice, which we should reach tomorrow morning. The exact program will then depend on what we see, and what conditions are like when we get there

Posted by: tim ellis | July 23, 2016

Svalbard – Saturday 23rd July 2016 – Ny-Ålesund

Norge N1

We get our first sighting of icebergs as we sail up Kingsford to Ny-Ålesund. We arrive over breakfast, and are able to moor at the jetty, so have the luxury of being able to walk off the boat – no lifejackets required.

The town is an ex-mining settlement, now a scientific community, home to 11 institutions from 10 different countries and is the northernmost permanently inhabited settlement at 78o55’. (It is closer to the North Pole than to Oslo). It is also the last shopping opportunity – postcards, t-shirts, maps and books, alongside more mundane items like toothpaste and shampoo. There is a bust of Roald Amundsen in the town, as well as the mast that was used to secure the “Norge” airship which he used in the first successful trans-polar voyage (from Spitsbergen to Canada). Finally there is a visitor’s centre and museum, with information about the history of the town and the local environment.

Puffins

We are welcomed back aboard ship with hot towels and hot chocolate, before setting sail over lunch for the 14th July Glacier, where we undertake a zodiac cruise amongst the ice, followed by a walk along the beach. We see Bearded Seal, Svalbard Reindeer, Pink-footed and Barnacle Geese, Arctic Skua (with chicks), Guillemots, Puffin, Kittiwake and Glaucous Gull. We also see several flowers including Moss Campion, (which can be used a compass, if you know the date, or a calendar if you have a compass…) Bird Lichen, Dandelion, and several others which we can’t immediately identify , since Colin turns out not to have put his flower book into his bag. No towels or chocolate await us on our return, but there is time for a coffee and a cookie before the evening briefing.

The 14th July Glacier

As we approach our overnight anchoring point in a very picturesque fjord, there is a claim that Walrus have been spotted on the back of a spit of land – not that I can see them, nor any of the other passengers I talk to on deck…

Posted by: tim ellis | July 22, 2016

Svalbard – Friday 22nd July 2016 – Longyearbyen

Barentsburg

A reasonably calm and bright start to the day. It’s a while before we get close enough to Spitsbergen to see land. When we enter the fjord, we cruise past Barentsburg, a Russian mining town. It now produces just enough coal to power the town itself, justifying its existence as a Russian enclave in Western Europe. From there we continue along the fjord to Longyearbyen. There are several ships in the bay, including a large German cruise ship, so we take the Zodiacs ashore.

Longyearbyen

There is a choice of a walk or a visit to a coal mine. Spook and I both choose the latter (and from what we here later from the walkers, possibly made the wiser choice).

Our guide is originally from Sweden, and had worked for the mining company before becoming a tourist guide. She is accompanied by her (retired) sledge dog, as she tells us something of the history of the mines and life of the miners (still mining the 80cm seams by hand in 1986). Then we put on the overalls and hard hats before entering a short way into the mine. We can’t go far as it is deemed “Not Safe” for tourists. (It would be a different story if we were miners!)

Mine 3

Once everyone is back on board we set sail again, heading further North overnight.

Posted by: tim ellis | July 21, 2016

Svalbard – Thursday 21st July 2016 – Bear Island

Bear IslandThe boat is not rocking so much this morning, although there is till the occasional swell, and the weather is still grey, cloudy and damp with a fairly strong wind. These conditions have put us a bit behind schedule, but we plan to arrive on the sheltered side of Bear Island sometime around 10:00, where hopefully, the sea will be calm enough to allow for a zodiac cruise.

When we approach the Island it is shrouded in fog, which clear to allow us to see the impressive cliffs, but the wind remains too strong to allow the zodiacs to be deployed. As a result, we anchor for an early lunch, with the intention of cruising around the south side of the island on the ship. A plan foiled by the reappearance of the fog!
Northern Fulmar
In the meantime we are entertained by large numbers of Fulmar, flying past or sitting in the sea nearby. Obviously they hope we are a fishing boat, and are going to provide them with a free meal. The weather brightens up once we head North for Spitsbergen, becoming quite sunny again by late afternoon.
Humpback Whale
We are just finishing dinner when an announcement is made that there are Humpback Whales off the starboard bow. We have just passed them, but the captain is going to go around again giving us a second look. We congregate at the front of the ship and around the bridge, and are treated to the view of 4-5 whales swimming around feeding and giving us the occasional tail lob or flipper splash to keep the interest levels up!

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