Day 10 |
Jun 21, 2008

Jan Mayen Island

By Daniil Elterman, Staff

Co-ordinates: 70*59’ N, 8*32’ W

The Prince Albert II reached Jan Mayen at 01:00 this morning. This 55 km long remote island lies 600 km north of Iceland and 500 km east of central Greenland in the Arctic Ocean and is very rarely visited by other vessels.

Despite the early hour, our Expedition Leader, Brad Rhees, with a few more team members went on a scouting tour to find a place for us to land in the morning, and at 06:00 the time to leave our warm beds and blankets came. After a quick continental breakfast, we donned our rubber boots and life jackets (every day we are getting better and better with this procedure) and boarded four Zodiac boats. Today we truly felt the spirit of adventure as the landing was not that easy due to very strong surf. Our drivers (Esther, Brad, Robin and Chris) really had to put all their skills to test maneuvering the boats while the shore party, nearly waist-deep in water, were catching the boats and pulling them ashore. What a landing it was!

Once on terra firma, we had a choice of groups to join. Christian Walter lead the History Walk and we learned that the first-known discovery of the island was in 1614, while some historians believe that an Irish monk, Brendan, who was known as a good sailor, was close to Jan Mayen in the early 6th century. He came back from one of his voyages and reported that he had been close to a black island that was on fire, and he thought that he might have found the entrance to hell. Stefan Kredel, our geologist, was talking about a volcanic origin of the island, pointing out relatively fresh layers of lava and different types of minerals of this area, including greenish glassy olivine. Beachcombers in Tony Huntley’s group found a nice display of small flowers, mosses and lichens, as well as some sea bird’s bones. And talking about birds – Brent Stephenson took us in the opposite direction from the other groups and we headed towards dramatically poised bird cliffs where we were lucky to spot Ringed Plover, Golden Plover, Purple Sandpiper, Common Eider, Little Auk and some more Northern Fulmars.

But no matter what we did, all of us were moved by the breathtaking scenery around the area – from the pitch black sand of the landing beach, strangely curved cliffs and green hills with sand flows and huge rocks on their slopes, to the distant snow-covered summit of Beerenberg volcano – it all looked like a Star Wars movie set, designed to represent some distant planet’s landscape – so deserted and pristine it was!

Not as deserted as it seems to be, Jan Mayen hosts a Norwegian research base. There are 18 people who overwinter on the island, and during the summer time the population of the base doubles. We were received very warmly by scientists and shown around the station where the amount of souvenirs for sale took us by surprise!

Finally, after 3 hours of exploring the island, we headed back to our landing site. The surf increased and our departure was even more exciting than our arrival – we all got splashed (“christened“) when our Zodiacs were battling with the surf on the way to the ship, where hot chocolate with Bailey’s and a late breakfast were awaiting us…

The rest of the day was much more relaxing. We attended Stefan Kredel’s lecture about ice, where we learned how ice forms and how it affects our planet. The most interesting fact was that polar ice is not staying in one place, but actually drifting, with speeds up to 48 meters per hour! And after lunch, Tony Huntley presented us with a lesson on how to identify different species of whales and dolphins, so now we are fully prepared to encounter these amazing and mystical marine mammals…

Afternoon tea, more music from Daryl and, as always, a delicious dinner slowly but surely led us back to the beds we had left so early. It was very long day – full of adventure and emotion. Now we can proudly say that we are among only 200 people who set their feet on this well hidden island each year. And (as if that’s not enough) we, guests of the Prince Albert II, were the first this season to do so!