Day 2: Saturday, 16 May 2015 Ny Alesund

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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 2: Prins Karls Forland – Poolepynten

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Our two favourite birders Steven and Andrew spotted a flock of King Eider Ducks on the sea ice in front of Esmarkbreen. We took the zodiacs out and had plenty of time to photograph the birds with the beautiful morning light. After this first excursion, Rupert gave us a talk about polar bear safety, and explained in great details the “bear protocol” that we will follow every time we get onshore.
We then sailed to Poolepynten along the 86km long island of Prins Karls Forland. Only small boats such as the Polaris I are able to sail between the West coast of Spitsbergen and Prins Karls Forland as the water gets extremely shallow (<1m in places!). Poolepynten is a great spot to observe walruses. It consists of a peninsula pointing towards the East and Spitsbergen. A haul out of 9 specimens was lying on the sandy beach. Behind us, the alpine peaks of Prins Karls Foreland, and in front of us we could see curtains of rain falling onto the west coast of Spitsbergen. But the sun was right above us! The shore was covered by driftwood coming from Siberia. A trapper’s hut surrounded by whalebones was the only inhabitant of this hostile place, along with all the little swamp birds.
After such a nice encounter we headed east towards Kongsfjorden, the King’s Fjord. We were greeted by the massive and chaotic glacier Blomstrandbreen, and anchored the Polaris close to the island of the same name, Blomstrandhalvoya.

Day 6: Raud-fjorden and Hamiltonbukta

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After a short night the bear watch resumed and we sailed once more along the shores of Woodfjorden. The boat had to zigzag between the huge ice floes drifting by. The lack of tracks was surprising, and we headed back West to Raud-fjorden and the beautiful Hamiltonbutka. The bay is famous for its stunning scenery composed of chaotic calving glaciers, bird cliffs and small islands. It did not take long before a bear was spotted! Rupert described the animal as a young 6 year-old male. The location could not have been more ideal to get close to the bear as it was walking and swimming from one island to another. We rapidly took the zodiacs out and Rupert and Rick slowly and silently drove us around the little archipelago without disturbing the bear. This is the safest way to approach the animal and take our best photographs.  For a short time the bear disappeared from our sight, and we found it again eating a Skua caught seconds before. A moment we will never forget!

Day 5: Sailing East – Woodfjorden

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Pumped up by our encounter from the day before we kept on looking for bears while sailing around the eastern lobe of Reinsdyrflya, the largest and flattest piece of land in Svalbard. Rick braved the rough seas to give a fascinating lecture on marine mammals. By the early afternoon we reached Liefdefjorden and wandered around the Andøyane islands. The sun was shining on the magnificent Monacobreen, largest calving glacier of Svalbard, and Arthur proudly parked the Polaris I in the sea ice. The scenery was breath taking. In the afternoon Jordan and Rick were sent out scouting for wildlife around the islands. Several seals were spotted on the sea ice, but unfortunately no bears to be seen. We tried our luck by sailing to the other side of the fjord into the very icy Bockfjorden. A Minke whale made an apparition on the way. Heidi and Jordan went on yet another adventurous zodiac trip to the far side of Woodfjorden towards Mushbukta and somewhat struggled to make their way back to the ship stuck in the ice! But again, they did not see any signs of bears.
A night watch was organised by the keenest photographers to make sure no bears would be missed. During two hours each pair of the passengers and staff would scan the sea ice and shores. Around 4:30 am, during Rick’s and Heidi’s watch the sea ice started breaking off and dangerously pushing the boat and threatening to break its anchor chain! Arthur saved us from this perilous situation and moved the boat to the sheltered Andøyane islands.