Day 10 |
Jul 13, 2009

Bellsund, Svalbard, Norway

By Christian Walter, Ethnohistorian

Co-ordinates: 77 degrees 33’ 38” N, 15 degrees 07’ 26” E

Weather: slightly overcast, partially blue skies, windy

Air Temperature:  4,9 C

Pressure: 1016 hPa

Wind: 49,7 km/h

This morning we entered Bellsund for the last of our expedition experiences this cruise. Our Expedition Leader Conrad had promised a fantastic landing at Ahlstrandodden, next to “Bamsebu” (=Bear-hut), and despite some cloud cover, the morning had a crisp look to it.

After a quick breakfast in the Observation Lounge, we waited in the reception area for the scout party to give permission for a landing.

Southeasterly winds had brought a number of large pieces of ice onto the shore, but the landing itself posed no problem. We landed in front of the heaps of beluga whale bones, some 60 meters away from “Bamsebu”.

Zodiac groups three and four were the first to come and were split into smaller groups; Hans was the first to leave for the walk, followed by Chris and finally myself, with 16 to 20 guests in each group.

The walk was quite pleasant, as we first headed over to where Rune, our Danish bear-guide/guard had positioned himself. We could see the entrance to Bellsund, some of the smaller islands, more whale-bones, another upturned whale boat – this actually had formerly had an engine, and quite a number of plants, e.g. moss campion and various saxifrage varieties. As the tundra had started to become more and more boggy over the last weeks, we did not take a short cut towards the cairn above “Bamsebu”, but headed for the hut first. It is surprising that it is in such a good state, considering it was built in the early 20th century. The hut still is in use – it is the only privately owned one as well, but has been locked during our different visits.

Apart from the proof of geese and reindeer in the vicinity (their droppings), we could also see footprints of birds, reindeer and polar bear (!) in the hardened ground. Today, only birds were seen close-up, among them nesting snow-buntings right next to the cairn.

The change of guards (well, actually groups one and two) brought another walk, this time with just eight guests accompanying me on the same loop. We had ample time for pictures, or just to enjoy the plants and landscape, before it was time to head back to the Prince Albert II for lunch and this afternoon’s activities.

The idea had been to reach Nathorstbreen (the 9th largest glacier in Svalbard), and have a Zodiac-cruise through the ice. This promised to be interesting, as this was/is one of the few advancing glaciers left in the world! But during lunch – an impressive lobster buffet – we noticed many pieces of ice in the fjord, and the Captain maneuvered the Prince Albert II in a zigzagging course to avoid unwanted collisions. There was so much ice, and so much dirty ice (because of the moraines in and next to the glacier), that an announcement was made at 01:30 p.m., canceling a visit to the glacier area, hoping for some other activity closer to the entrance of Bellsund.

At 02:30 p.m. we saw the Professor Vavilov, a former Russian submarine-hunter, coming towards Ahlstrandodden. Apart from the Amadea and Bremen, seen near the 14th of July Glacier, this was the only other close look at passenger-carrying ships we had had up in Svalbard so far.

Barely had the announcement been made, than Conrad was heard again over the public address system, stating that yet another polar bear had been spotted ashore. It was just a small speck on land, but clearly indicated that one has to be careful when going ashore, as bears can really be anywhere in Svalbard.

A visit to Recherchebreen at the entrance to Bellsund ended our cruising south of Isfjord (=the Ice-fjord), and we headed north to our evening stop in Adventfjord. We were going to anchor in front of Longyearbyen’s harbor for a calm night.

Captain Golubev invited everyone for his Farewell Cocktail Party, and introduced some 40 crew-members from every department on board as well as the Expedition Team.

The Farewell Cocktail Party was followed by the Farewell Dinner (delicious, as always), and while we were heading ever closer to our anchorage, a number of yachts and ships did pass us on their way out of the Isfjord.

At 10:10 p.m. the anchor was dropped and guests could enjoy a last tranquil night on board before it would be time to leave and head for the airport for flights home….