Day 2: Saturday, 16 May 2015 Ny Alesund


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.


Day 4: Kongsfjord – Ny-Alesund

Svalbard - Stockholm, May, 2014 05217

We lowered a Zodiac after breakfast for a landing at a small cliff on the southern shore of Kongsfjord, a little east of Ny Alesund, where we could see kittiwakes and Brunnich’s guillemots on ledges relatively close to the ground.  The shoreline where we landed was littered with hundreds of ‘icebergs’ of varying sizes, from a few centimetres across to some comprising several square metres of ice and weighing 10-15 tonnes.  The myriad shapes of all these pieces of ice presented a wonderful opportunity for creative photography.

After returning to the ship, we sailed to Kongsbreen (king’s glacier) the head of the fjord, arriving just in time to see a spectacular calving in which a very large section of the ice face broke off the face of the glacier, isolating a 25 metre-high pinnacle of ice that remained for several seconds before slowly collapsing.  As it did so we had a clear impression of how icebergs pitch and roll and find their equilibrium, and of how much of them is beneath the water.

After the glacier, we went to Ny Alesund and spent a few hours learning about the cluster of science stations that calls itself the world’s northernmost community.  We visited the shop, where several people bought some of the legendary and very cheap woollen socks, and postcards that then have the northernmost postal stamp put on them.  After that, we walked through deep snow to the pylon that had been used for the launch of the ‘Norge’ in 1926 – the airship in which Amundsen, Nobile and Ellsworth made the first trans-polar flight.  The snow began to fall quite heavily on the way back to the ship – the beginning of a weather system that we were going to have to go through on the way north.  In the so-called Town Square, we passed a bust of Roald Amundsen protruding from the snow, showing only the face shrouded by the hood of a parka.  Although the bust is mounted on a plinth, and stands two metres above the ground, it seemed apropos to Amundsen, as well as to our own journey, to see it half-buried and framed by the snow.

We had intended to wait out the weather front in Ny Alesund but decided that it would be better to leave immediately and get ahead of the worst of it.  When we left, Gerry and Andrew gave part of an ongoing presentation on the use Adobe Lightroom, which was enthusiastically received.