Day 2: Saturday, 16 May 2015 Ny Alesund

Svabard-SS-14

Having sailed north overnight in relatively bumpy seas, we stopped at Ny Alesund, the scientific community on the southern shore of Kongsfjord that developed from the mining operation at Kings Bay after 1967. In 1926, Roald Amundsen and Umberto Nobile successfully piloted the airship “Norge” from Ny Alesund, over the North Pole to Alaska. In the same decade, three other attempts were made to overfly the North Pole from Ny Alesund, including that of Nobile, in 1928, aboard another airship called Italia, which crashed on the sea-ice with a loss of 8 crew members and several rescuers, including Roald Amundsen. From 1992, foreign countries were permitted to build research facilities at Ny Alesund, and today, is has a summer population of around 300 that dwindles to around 35 in winter.

 

We walked around the community, looked at the dog-kennel area, the old telegraph house and the bust of Roald Amundsen. The museum was being renovated, but it was possible to visit the shop, where post cards could be sent home stamped with the furthest north post mark in the world. We also walked out to the tower where Amundsen’s airship, Norge, had been tethered prior to its trans-polar flight.

 

We sailed north out of Kongsfjorden and were briefly exposed to the choppy seas of the previous night before entering the sheltered waters of Bjornfjorden and Smeerenburg. As we will soon be approaching the sea ice, we had a bear safety talk from Rupert, after dinner.

Advertisements

Day 1: Friday, 15 May 2015 – Embarkation, Longyearbyen.

Svabard-SS

We arrived in Svalbard in the early afternoon along with most of the guests who had flown north from Oslo on the same flight. At Longyear airport we were greeted by Rupert, the Blue Planet Expeditions representative, and a mini bus that was waiting to take us to the ship

Due to the fact that we couldn’t embark the MS Stockholm until later in the afternoon we stopped just long enough to offload our luggage. Once this was completed we got back into the minibus and continued onwards for a tour of Longyearbyen.

The town is small but its uniqueness and interesting history provided an interesting interlude, and our guide Wiggo, who is a fourth generation Svalbard resident, gave us a potted history that was both interesting and humorous. Longyearbyen is the furthest North town in the world, a distinction shared with the northernmost church and university campus. The town is also home to the World Seed Bank – a strategic repository for seeds of most of the world’s plants and trees and the crops we rely on.

On our tour, we also learned about the colourful social history of Longyearbyen, and of Svalbard, which, while not having an indigenous people, only a century ago was the ultimate representation of the ‘wild west’. During that time, Svalbard was populated by coal miners, whalers, fox and polar bear trappers – tough, self-reliant people. The human population was scattered sparsely along the archipelago’s cold shores in rudimentary cabins built from driftwood. The capital was formed in Longyearbyen, which had grown up at the bottom of the valley off Isfjorden where the first coal had been discovered. There was no law in Svalbard in those days, adding to the harsh nature of life there, and it was a place suited only to the hardiest and most independent people.

The Svalbard treaty of 1920 saw Norway open its remote High Arctic territory to any other country or people who wanted a part of it, although only Russia staked any claim, later consolidating their access to coal in other areas of Isfjorden, and designating the towns of Barentsburg and Pyramiden as formal Russian inholdings in Svalbard.

After a break at Cafe Fruene, we stopped at the Radisson Hotel to pick up guests who had arrived in Longyearbyen earlier, and then drove down to the port where we boarded the ship.

Just after 5pm, we let go the lines and sailed west into Isfjorden and the beginning of our adventure along the west coast of Spitsbergen.