Weather: Mist/thick fog
Air Temperature: 4°C
It’s quiet. The Silver Explorer seems to be drifting on a cloud when I awake. We have arrived well ahead of our scheduled landing time in Diskobukta, an open bay on the western side of Edgeøya (or Edge’s Island, so called after the English whaler Thomas Edge in the 17th century), one of the four largest islands of the Svalbard archipelago. The bay is a very shallow one, and for that reason we are waiting for the tide to begin to rise, to allow us to access the shore with our Zodiac fleet.
With sufficient tide, we spring into action, first scouting the area for the presence of polar bears. This iconic beast, often the primary reason for journeying to this remote and frigid land, can also be the bane of operations. The presence of a bear prevents a perfectly suitable landing. Subsequently, if you do want to find them, they often prove elusive.
My first duty of the morning was to motor a mile or more down the southern coastline of the bay, to ensure that that area was indeed bear free. Once confirmed, I joined the rest of the Zodiac fleet to transfer the first group of guests ashore. The sea was glossy and calm, blending into a green-grey hazy sky, and weaving around the small icebergs and bergy bits made for pleasurable Zodiac driving.
The landing however, was less pleasing for all involved. No sooner had the first groups been lead off on their hike when the mist and thick fog rolled in. In such restricted visibility, one can’t see one’s own nose in front of one’s face, yet alone an approaching polar bear. There was nothing else to do but to call off the landing. In fact it is a legal requirement that we don’t operate on shore in such conditions. The bottom line is always to avoid confrontation with polar bears. Zodiacs quickly picked up those shoreside and all were returned safely back to the ship.
We will take some fond memories with us from Diskobukta. As we embarked upon our final day in the Svalbard archipelago, we offered a Polar Plunge to those crazy enough to want to throw themselves into the freezing Arctic waters. And so the brave, the crazy and the insane appeared clad in fluffy and cosy robes. Luciano (our ornithologist and glaciologist) and I acted as lifeguards, tying safety ropes around all those “plungers,” should they need assistance in emerging from the icy waters. The recorded surface temperature was 1°C!!! It was also the opportunity for numerous crew members to prove their mettle. For those of us on the Expedition Team, it is a rite of passage of sorts, and as such I found myself stripping down for the final act. Ray (our photographer) joined me for moral support. Oddly enough I didn’t think the water felt very cold – perhaps that was the early stages of hypothermia, as Ray yelped and leaped back out of the water almost as fast as he entered it.
We set sail for Bear Island, a birder’s paradise halfway between Svalbard and northern Norway. Svalbard now revealed itself in a somewhat mocking tone, dark scree-sided mountains interspaced with glaciers running down to the sea. Where the fog went was anyone’s guess. Out on the outer decks guests enjoyed the warm sun, reading, bathing in the Jacuzzis or watching for birds.
At 2:00pm, Hans Peter (our botanist) lectured on the vegetation of the tundra landscape and their various adaptations against the harsh regional climate. Having thus brushed up on our knowledge of the green stuff, it was time to test our knowledge of the transparent stuff; an ice trivia quiz hosted by Luciano in the Panorama Lounge. Luciano roped me in as his glamorous assistant; with the highly important role of changing the slides on his Powerpoint quiz presentation.
At 5:00pm, it was time for the weird and wonderful sea creatures. Robin Aiello (our Marine Biologist) presented some of the lesser-known creatures from the oceans, including comb jellies, sea angels and sea devils to name but a few.
I joined the rest of the Expedition Team for Recap and Briefing at 6:45pm in The Theatre, where we learned of our planned Zodiac cruise at Bear Island tomorrow from Robin (our Expedition leader). Then members of the team took to the stage to present small nuggets of information relevant to the last few days. I made a small presentation on monkfish, as it had appeared on the menu two days ago, and while a tasty fish to eat, to some it has a less than attractive look to it. As a Fisheries Biologist, I can of course admire the beauty of the functionality of its appearance.
After dining with Rapa Nui (one of our two Historians) and two of our Taiwanese guests, I made my way up to the Panorama Lounge again, this time to finish off the evening in amusing fashion. Liars Club (aka Call My Bluff) involves four Expedition Team panel members attempting for the most part to misinform the guests on the origin and meaning of some very obscure words. The guests formed teams to try to establish just which one of the four panel members was telling the truth for each of four rounds. And so begins the lies, more lies and the fiction. The game never fails to produce far-fetched stories and brings into question the credibility of members of the Expedition Team who seem all too convincing at telling mistruths!