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Published: June 16th 2005
One of only 2 towns on Spitzberg
Its midnight, and after flying in from the arctic, we are now sitting on Cord and Leonie’s front door step waiting for Cord to return from work to let us in. A good time to do some writing. What is really amazing, is that this is the first time we have been under a night sky in 2 weeks.
On arrival at Longyearbyen airport we were met by a stuffed polar bear and a very fuzzy haired Dutchman, called Jan, holding a Noorderlicht lifebelt. We then packed onto a bus to the harbour and as we rounded the corner we got our first view of the Noorderlicht (our transport and home for the next two weeks), she is the most beautiful sailing ship in the Artic. The Noorderlicht is a hundred year old Dutch schooner that was rebuilt by its present owner in the early 90’s. No matter how many times we saw her, we still found ourselves reaching for our cameras every time she came into view.
We soon realised that this trip was going to be a lot colder than expected and that instead of having a number of changes of clothing, we would be wearing all
Our second stuffed Polar Bear and very little English on exhibits, however, a brilliant shelter from the cold.
our clothing at the same time for the next two weeks. Our guide book said that we could expect temperatures of between 0 and 20 degrees Celsius. Until the last day when the mercury soared to 7 degrees C, the temperature was between 1 and 2 with a biting wind.
After dropping our bags at the ship, we were told to entertain ourselves in town. With a population of 1200, Longyearbyen was the bigger of the 2 towns on the Island (The other being a Russian Mining cooperative called Barentsburg). We decided to visit the much talked about Museum to learn a little more about the wildlife and history of the place. However, apart from the very friendly American Masters student who ran the front desk, very little of the 2 sections of exhibits were in English. We found ourselves looking at pictures and old stuffed animals in an attempt to stay out of the cold before we were welcome back at the Nooderlicht. The highlight of the Museum visit for Mark (and many others) was the reindeer that appeared on the hillside while we were inside. This was the start of a reindeer obsession for Mark, who ended
Stuck in the pack ice
The Nooderlicht in the pack ice from above. (Carl was brave enough to climb the mast to get this shot.)
the trip with over 1000 reindeer photos!
Back at the boat, our kayaks had arrived to be loaded onto the ship. There was huge consternation among our fellow kayakers as some of the boats were not up to the standard that had been stated in our itinerary. These kayaks made in Poland, called Yokuns, were not the most stable or comfortable kayaks and were to be the target of many rude remarks during the trip. Nicola and I were really worried as this was going to be our first trip on the open ocean and we were not sure of our abilities on the water. Fortunately our inexperience was duly noted and we were assigned a super stable Feathercraft kayak for our first few trips.
After sailing south through the night we woke up to a breakfast of cereals, yoghurt, salami, ham, cheese and bread (A combination that would be repeated for all future breakfasts and lunches) and a lecture on polar bear safety. In essence, stay near the guide and do as they say. It was then all hands on deck to get the kayaks to the shore for a beach launch. Three and a half hours
This is one of the three bears we saw. Do not be deceived by the zoom lens - we never go that close!
later we finally got onto the water. We paddled for a few minutes and then found it was time for lunch, so we all got back out.
Following lunch we finally got some decent paddling done. After about 2 hours of paddling we were really starting to get a rhythm and system of communication going. As we paddled into an area of loose pack ice the cry
echoed across the water. Nicola and I turned round to see a large brown creature swimming towards our paddling group. Tim the assistant guide decided that we should probably aim for a beach and paddle quickly over to it. As we paddled the walrus continued to head in our direction, Nicola was not very happy about this so we decided to make sure we were not the slowest boat and paddled flat out. We reached the beach and pulled our boats up out of the water. The walrus came directly off shore from us and stared at us with his huge tusks clearly visible, before lazily moving off. We now knew why the Inuit consider walruses to be their number one enemy.
The next two days the weather worsened but
Seconds before Carl nudges him with his paddle. (Carl is the centre of photo in Black hat)
we still managed to get in a beautiful kayak trip along a frozen bay, a visit to a Polish research station and our first polar bear sighting. A stationary bear about 800m away from the shore. He was watching a seal hole and you could just make out his shape when viewing through binoculars. It was then time, according to the itinerary, to head North. In the early morning we started to hear a lot of loud clunking sounds coming from the front of the boat and by the time we awoke we found that we were now deep inside the pack ice.
While we had been in one of the larger fjords, the current had pushed the pack ice around the bottom of Spitzbergen and across the inlet of the fjord. Captain Gert looked very concerned and had first mate Elskarin climb the mast to try and find a way out of the ice. Noordelight’s ice strengthened hull allowed us to follow leads in the pack ice where it was thinner. However, in each direction we tried, the leads eventually ran out and we found ourselves up against the really thick stuff. Using the satellite phone we were
Our First Kayak Launch
On the first day we launched from the beach, afterwards we decided it was quicker to launch from boat
able to get information about the thickness of the sea ice and were told that it stretched 30 miles out to the east of Spitzbergen, but after bashing our way 40 miles east we were still stuck with no end in sight.
Downstairs in the main salon, people were trying their best to keep themselves amused, we were now on day three of being locked in, and Puerto Rican dominos, courtesy of our Californian buddy Dean, became a popular and competitive pastime. Onboard we also had a photography expert Jonathon who kept us entertained with presentations on digital photography. Best of all we were able to view our recently taken photographs and have him advise us on how to improve the images taken. However, a evil cold was starting to take hold of some of the members of our party. Soon it was spreading like wild fire until there was hardly a moment without coughing, sneezing or snorting to be heard.
Ultimately the captain decided that there is no way the Noordelight was going to get through the ice without waiting for it melt and we radioed for help. A Russian ice breaker answered our call and began
Russian Icebreaker comes to our rescue.
heading in our direction. It was going to take most of the day to reach us, so when we reached a larger opening in the ice we decided to get the kayaks on the water and try and get some exercise. Nicola was not feeling all that well at the time so she decided to stay on board and take photographs of us paddling between the chunks of ice. I was to paddle with Baldy the main guide.
We had not seen much apart from birds since we had entered the pack ice, so it was with some surprise that we found a group of seals right near to the ship. We paddled past some beautiful blue chunks of ice but very quickly come to a dead end in the ice. Heading back in the direction of Noordelicht one of the kayaks, Alvin and Ellen, got quite ahead of the group. Dean’s kayak tried to catch up to them, as it is not safe to be on your own. A loud splash was heard from their direction and Dean shouted
As we had just seen some seals we assumed it was a misidentification so Tim the assistant guide shouted
Carl Braves the cold
Are you sure?
Yes I’m f***ing sure!
came the response
I can see his teeth!
Baldy and I paddled over towards Dean and Alvin’s boats to provide assistance. We paddled into an open area and then stopped to try and assess the situation. Everything looked OK, the two boats were coming in our direction. We had probably frightened him off. I was looking into the distance to see if I could spot it, when suddenly right in front of our boat the water exploded up and an enormous whiskered face launched up out of the water. He was so close that he put a front flipper up against the kayak and I could smell his breath. Walrus are HUGE, and those tusks are not small either! He dipped back under the water and I thought he was going to come up from under us and try tip us over.
We paddled backwards towards the boat and Baldy got us to raft our kayaks together. Oddly enough at this point I thought of you blog readers, "Nicola get your camera and take a picture" I shouted. No point being stabbed by a walrus’s tusk if you don’t get some good pictures for it. I also grabbed my underwater
Getting the kayaks on and off the boat was a mission.
camera and got ready to take a picture, however in this moment of clarity I neglected to turn it on. Again a calm descended and I began to think that it was over. The walrus had other ideas and suddenly exploded out towards the back of the raft. He reared up and lunged at the outside boat, unlucky David must have been preparing for the end when Baldy grabbed a paddle and pushed him backwards, so that he only grazed the boat with his tusk. It was at this point that I decided maybe the paddle was more important than the camera. Good thing too as he came to my side of the boat and reared up right above me (see photo). I grabbed my paddled and gave him a big shove on the nose. This seemed to do the trick for some reason as from then on he circled us at a slightly greater distance. We began evacuating the water and were somewhat quicker than our three and a half hours on the first day.
Soon afterwards the Russian icebreaker arrived and we were able to follow it out of the ice and back onto the open ocean.
Nooderlicht in Fast Ice
We parked at the edge of a solid ice sheet, to look at polar bear footprints on the ice.
The big noise it made frightened a bear out of hiding and we got a much closer sighting of a polar bear.
The next few days every discussion returned to our incident with the walrus and it took accounts from all witnesses to enable us to piece together exactly what had taken place. One thing was certain we would not be paddling on any water where there was any chance of a walrus encounter.
As a result of being stuck in the ice for so long we were no longer able to go all the way to the north of the island, as it would have involved so much sailing that we would have had little time for any shore excursions / kayaking.
The remaining days included some of our most beautiful kayaking trips with mirror like water and even some sunny weather. Even with Jonathan’s help we struggled to take pictures which truly reflected the harsh beauty of the frozen landscape. We had another polar bear sighting and some really close up walruses (from the land), met some friendly fluffy reindeer, some frightened arctic foxes and saw large pods of minke and beluga whales. The brave
Captain Gert steers us through the ice.
among us even took a swim in icy water.
When we finally pulled back into Lonyearbyen the crew prepared a special farewell dinner for us. Although we all seemed ready to return to more hospitable climates I doubt this is the last the arctic will see of us.
As we write the last paragraph, two exhausting flights after starting this entry, we see a float plane drifting in towards the worlds largest sea plane airport in Anchorage Alaska and thank goodness not a walrus in sight. Tomorrow we pick up the 29ft RV (mobile home) and head off into the unknown.
Hope work is treating you well😊
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Hello Guys, What a shot (Walrus)! Nice to hear that Carl is keen to take on Walrus, I knew that you were always looking for new challenges Carl. Just to give you the latest update on my situation, I should start my new job in september and I am "trying" to resign on time for Belize but I guess it will be tough for me to get there as I would need to change my passport. Those bloody yank won't accept the one I have at the moment. Enjoy your trips! Guillaume
Fangs for the update!
Although I was privileged to hear all the news first-hand, reading this again leaves me speechless (well, almost!). What an awesome beginning to your adventure - I hope that each new day brings your more exciting memories like these. Safe journeys and blue skies!
i loved the walrus. humour. i had no idea dom lived that far north, but that will explain why it takes him so long to get to work in the mornings. also, you never said, what did dom's breath smell like?
Stunning pictures. The polar bear is pretty, nothing like it; the seals very cute. Such a shame you could not cuddle any of those cuties. The Walrus is just grand, and looks very kind. A fabulous shot. Carl, I wonder what this great beast evolved from ;o) ? The scenery is majestic, all things bright and beautiful ! Have lots of fun ! Franklin.
What a story
Thank you for your great account of your adventure. Dean is my "little" brother and I cannont believe that a "boy" from Montana is being confronted by walruses. (Maybe a grizzly) Travel safe Robin
Where are the reindeer photos? When I did a search for reindeer photos on the net the description for this site lncluded ..the trip with over 1.000 reindeer photos. FlyingReindeer@animail.com Flying Reindeer Snack And How Santa's Reindeer Fly http://community.webtv.net/Taimm/FLYINGREINDEERSNACK And How Santa's Reindeer Fly. [0__}: : : : +