July 18, 2016
Farewell to Spitsbergen
An impressive, windy trip to Spitsbergen (beginning of June) was rewarded withsitings of two polar bears hunting for seals in the Hornsund (South Spitsbergen.) We also saw belugas swimming near a glacier, reindeer nibbling on the tundra, many sea birds and remarkable scenery which made this trip complete! With such incredible beauty during the first voyage, we could hardly wait for the second to unfold.
Spitsbergen – Trip #1
During this first trip, where among others, we welcomed a family from Australia (with 6 and 8 year old sons) and a couple from New Zealand, we discovered what global warming is already doing here …. The warmth in the Gulf Stream is increasingly palpable and the western fjords, including the major Isfjord, where Longyearbyen is located, has not frozen solid in recent winters. According to Rolf Stange, a well-known Arctic guide, the water was 4 to 5 degrees Celsius warm this winter.
The consequences are: no resting places for the various seals on the ice and therefore no food for the polar bears. It became clear to us that the bears are often far away, back to the colder east side of Svalbard and on the pack ice (about 100 miles north of Spitsbergen).
Unfortunately, the Minke whale swims in the unprotected area of the water where it may be hunted freely (with some quotas on these beautiful animals,) which then are on the menu of the local restaurants. We continue to find this unpalatable.
Positive note: on the way during the first trip we met the rare blue whale, the largest mammal on earth! Successful trip!
Spitsbergen – Trip # 2
Again a very international group on board: many young people (with much too busy jobs …) came to enjoy the peace and be forced to stay offline!
Immediately upon leaving the Isfjord in glorious weather, we were greeted by two blue whales. Luck was with us! After the Magdalene fjord, the familiar Sallyhamna and we then went to Moffen (> 80 ° N), the walrus island, where you can see at an appropriate distance how lazy and fat they are lying on the beach, but once in the water they become flexibility itself!
We next sailed with a nice breeze to Mushamna, the lagoon where we like to come, because, apart from the last trip, it is rather “polar bear-sure”! We were not disappointed: a polar bear was swimming in front of the Anne-Margaretha! Yes!, the first polar bear was spotted!
After a huge part of the active Monaco glacier had fallen down (according to the map we had already far ascended the glacier …), we ended up at the Texas bar, famous for the film made there. Fantastic how many flowers we saw here!
On the way back a bear was walking along the cliffs in the Krossfjorden. Then we went towards Ny Ålesund, a research village with scientists from around the world and the last place of departure for Amundsen, who was never seen again …
Polar Bears in the Harbor…
A few miles before arriving in Ny Ålesund, a message came in via VHF 16: “Sécurité, sécurité, two polar bears in the harbor (of Ny Ålesund / Kingsbay)” … !!
Why had we not arrived an hour earlier? Two polar bears would have almost walked next to the ship! A mother bear with cub strolled along the beach, via the port over the pier, to the other side, toward the glacier. As we got closer we saw them just leaving the village. What a beautiful sight, and a happy event!
Besides seeing blue whales again, there was a group of walruses on the beach including a mother walrus with her young alongside our dinghy… (rare in this part of Spitsbergen), and our heads became quite full of all the amazing impressions.
After a week of only sunshine, on the last day both day and night we got a strong wind with some rain on the head, but the sunny feeling was not far away!
Heinz has already been sailing southward for several days with a new group. After the Hornsund, he heads to Bear Island and will finish this leg in Tromsø.