Day 5 |
Jul 08, 2009

Ice Cruising To The 80Th Degree Latitude

By Robin Aiello, Marine Biologist Lecturer

Co-ordinates: 80°07.3’N, 14°11.6’E

Weather: Overcast with some sun

Air Temperature: 2C

Sea Temperature: 4C

Wind: 0-5 knots

This is certainly one of my favourite days so far!

The Captain sailed the ship north along the western coast of Spitzbergen for two reasons – 1) to find sea ice to sail through, and 2) to reach latitude of more than 80°N. We achieved the latter goal (80°07.3’N) early in the morning at about 8:00am. This was a significant point – it meant that we were less than 600 nautical miles form the North Pole!

Unfortunately, there was no sea ice, only open ocean. But Captain Alexander Golubev, in search of sea ice, turned the ship eastward and headed towards Moffen Island.

Within a short while, the ship was surrounded by beautiful pack ice. It was gorgeous! I was out on deck with most of our guests as the ship sailed through the ice. We stood in awe of the beauty before us – bright white patches of ice floating on dark blue clear waters. It looked like a giant jigsaw puzzle.

As we manoeuvred through the open channels between the ice floes, we saw several seals and walrus. The seals, for the most part, were in the water and would pop their heads up to watch us slowly move past. Some, however, were ‘hauled out’ (lying on the ice) relaxing. We also saw a few solitary walrus also lying on the ice floes.

This was the perfect opportunity for me to do a little on-deck interpretation – I wandered around the deck explaining how the seals, when they haul out to rest, keep a safe distance from the edges of the ice to avoid sneak attacks from polar bears. Despite all the Expedition Team’s efforts, we did not spot any polar bears, although this was the perfect area for them to be hunting seals.

For the birders amongst us, I was able to point out many birds as they flew past at eye level, including Fulmars, Kittiwakes and Guillemots.

After a few hours, Conrad Combrink, our Expedition Leader, announced that after lunch there would be a Zodiac cruise in the sea ice. This was a real highlight of the trip so far. We had perfect conditions – it couldn’t get any better! The sun was poking out of the high clouds, the visibility was so clear that we could see for miles and miles to the mountains on the mainland, and the waters were flat calm.

I also spotted a few walrus in the distance, and through careful navigation, we were able to get to within about 50m for a closer view. One walrus in particular was sound asleep on its back with its head dangling off the edge of the ice floe. I explained that they tended to sleep this way so that if they were disturbed all they had to do was roll over and into the water – a quick escape.

As a Zodiac driver, these were the most fantastic conditions! We could drift slowly through the ice and look over the side down to the ice below, which was the most beautiful sky-blue colour. At times, I would turn off the motor completely so that we could drift in complete silence – a time to take in the beauty.

This is the ‘real’ Arctic! We all agreed that by sitting still, surrounded by ice floes and their reflections, we were making memories that would remain with us forever. You can actually feel the Arctic in your heart! 

The Hotel Director, Thomas Barth, had a special surprise for us. Unbeknownst to the guests, they had lowered one of the Zodiacs and set up a ‘Polar Bar’ tucked in amongst the ice. One by one, each Zodiac pulled up alongside and each guest was served champagne and a chocolate. What a perfect way to celebrate a perfect day in the Arctic ice!