Day 1 |
Jul 15, 2012

Longyearbyen, Svalbard 

By Peter W. Damisch, Historian, General Naturalist, Polar Bear Guard, Zodiac Driver and Cartographer

Co-ordinates: N 78º14'01", E 15º35'57"
Weather: Bright Sunshine and Low Wind
Air Temperature: 7ºC
Pressure: 1009 hPa
Wind: 5 knots

Turn-around day is always busy but also a bit sad. Early in the morning at breakfast I found myself chatting with so many new friends developed during the prior voyage from Tromso, Norway to Bear Island and then Svalbard. We reminisced about such great landings and zodiac cruises as well as multiple, outstanding polar bear encounters.

All too soon it was time for me to walk down the gangway to the pier. Interestingly enough I had to depart the ship before the guests as the Silver Explorer’s Polar Bear Guards, including myself, had an important appointment at the local shooting range. This facility is located on the mountainside just above the Longyearbyen Airport and just past the Global Seed Vault, which serves as a repository for samples of plant species from around the world.

Each time we are in port at Longyearbyen we head out to the range to conduct ongoing refresher training. This activity ensures that all of us maintain our proficiency as well as continually test our rifles as well as rotating through our stock of ammunition. Of course the Range Instructor always reviews all of the safety procedures as well.

Each of us takes our responsibilities in this critically important area very, very seriously. The team practices shooting from multiple positions as well as conducting exercises for time and accuracy.

Every location in Svalbard where we hope to land and every Zodiac cruise have the potential to encounter a polar bear. However, our encounters are always conducted from on board ship or Zodiac, never on land with the bear. Fortunately I have been able to share wonderful polar bear encounters with our guests on every Svalbard focused voyage with Silversea and have never had to discharge my weapon at any bear due to our careful and comprehensive safety procedures.

Just after returning from the Longyearbyen shooting range, I assumed responsibilities as Leader of our Shore Party operation. By this time the Silver Explorer had left the dock, freeing it up for another vessel. I stood by to coordinate transfer of personnel and supplies out to the ship from shore.

After being relieved, I then donned my Zodiac driving gear to assist in shuttling guests and luggage. One of the great things about being on the Expedition Team is that you get to wear ‘many hats’ and it never gets boring, especially on a warm, summer day in Longyearbyen, which is surrounded by beautiful, snow-capped mountains in every direction.

Given the prevailing ice conditions, it is the intention of the Expedition Leader to travel north as soon and as quickly as possible. We want to take advantage of every moment of good weather and start the active portion of the voyage as soon as possible. Thus the balance of the afternoon was spent on various presentations that we need to cover before starting operations. There is no sense delaying this until tomorrow so soon enough the Expedition Leader and Ship’s Officers conducted the Safety and Lifeboat Drill.

Next the Expedition Leader took the opportunity to introduce some of the key members of the ship’s crew followed by each of the Expedition Team standing up to introduce themselves. I always like this part as guests can begin to put faces to names and more importantly to identify where questions can be directed in any field of inquiry.

All of this was followed by a briefing to all about the guidelines that we follow with regard to wildlife and the environment while operating in the Arctic. Given our bi-lingual composition of guests, this important briefing was given once in English and then again in German.

During each presentation, guests from the other language had the chance to come down to Deck 3 and arrange to borrow rubber boots for the remainder of the voyage. Of course we land our zodiacs on beaches in remote areas and thus rubber boots are absolutely required. I assisted guests to find something that was going to be both warm and comfortable across the conditions we hope to explore.

Yes, it was a somewhat busy day for all of us. However, it put us right on track to begin full scale operations tomorrow such that we can offer as many activities as possible for our guests during this peak time of summer in the beautiful and remote Arctic wonderland of Svalbard.