''Expedition Svalbard II'' Voyage 7118 Day 7

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Day 7 - August 18, 2011 -  Lagoya and Alkefjellet, Svalbard Archipelago 

By Peter W. Damisch – Historian, General Naturalist, Cartographer & Polar Bear Guard

 

Co-ordinates: 80o 26’ N, 018o 06’ E
Weather: Sunshine early with high clouds rolling in at midday
Air Temperature: 7o C / 45 o F
Pressure: 1020 HPa
Wind: 65 km / hour


Please note the latitude above indicating that the Silver Explorer spent most of the day more than 80 degrees north of the Equator. In fact, during the very early morning, our position peaked out at 80o 40’ N, which is only 560 nautical miles / 644 statute miles / 1,037 km from the North Pole! At this point we have the privilege of being north of every public settlement, town, city or village and the only other human beings between us and the Pole are at military, research or weather stations!

This voyage has been one of superlatives and today is no exception. We are in the process of conducting our first circumnavigation of Nordaustland and Spitsbergen of this season, just now completing the northerly segment, which has previously been blocked by ice. We’ve had exceptional weather at just the right time to conduct our visits yesterday to a massive walrus haul-out followed by landing at one of the least visited locations in the world and one that is one of the most historic in Svalbard.

Today we have followed up by landing this morning at Lagoya or ‘Low Island’ which is one of our rare landings north of 80 degrees latitude. Yesterday we were able to observe hundreds of walrus on the water and on the beach but could not land as there were also two polar bears adjacent to the walrus herd. At Lagoya we scouted for and found the best of all possible worlds: more walrus on the beach and in the water, but no polar bears. Even so, we deployed our standard polar bear perimeter defense and went ashore to have the near unique opportunity to stand close to one of the most unusual creatures in the Arctic. I really love the walrus with its wonderful face, full of whiskers (partially like mine) and never get tired of observing them. They are quite social animals and group together for that reason as well as for warmth and some protection from the odd polar bear or two.

After having such a large focus on history at Kvitoya last afternoon, my assignment today was to serve as the Northernmost Polar Bear Guard. This places me in a position to observe the entire northern portion of the island, primarily scanning the seas for any bears that might swim ashore. My two Polar Bear Guard colleagues similarly covered the southern approaches and highest point to ensure everyone’s safety. Fortunately our guests could spend the morning focused on the bellows and snorts of so many walrus lying down in a big heap just above the high tide mark on the beach. Every once in awhile the wind would change just a bit and we could get a whiff of ‘Eau de Walrus’. The scent is a little strong but I still love those blubbery beasts!

Almost immediately after returning to the ship, we offered the opportunity for guests to participate in a ‘Polar Plunge’. Sometimes the weather is a bit windy or overcast but once again the weather gods have blessed us with sunshine and temperatures just a few degrees above average. The net result was to have more than 30 guests take the big leap into the very cold ocean from one of our Zodiacs tied to the side platform of the ship. After hitting the water, which is only a few degrees above freezing, everyone rises quickly to the surface with a gasp, then swims rapidly back to the swim ladder, towels off then heads back into the ship for a hot chocolate. Of course everyone, both guest and crew, line the outer railings and cheer on each participant. I had the good fortune of driving the photographic boat and we got some great shots of the entire process in which each person’s face typically goes from shock to glee. These are a few moments of challenging ‘bathwater’ in exchange for a lifetime of bragging rights!

Next up, after a wonderful lunch, was a full-length Recap & Briefing, which included a discussion of our planned events for tomorrow as well as a review of educational topics covering glaciers, geology and walrus. Then, later in the day, we sailed down to the Alkefjellet bird cliffs. These world famous formations are sheer dolerite and limestone ledges that rise 30 or more meters out of the sea. Fortunately, the water is very deep right up and thus the Silver Explorer can approach quite closely under the expert maneuvering experience of our Captain. It is a simple wonder every time that I have the privilege to visit as the sky literally darkens with tens of thousands of birds, primarily Brunich’s Guillemots. They breed here in great numbers and their cries create a symphony of sound as we quietly slide past, traveling along virtually the entire length of the colony. It is almost overwhelming with such a large number of birds not found in many other locations around the world.

Our full day continued with a reception and dinner in honor of our Venetian Society members, those individuals who have previously traveled on board one of the vessels in the Silversea fleet. One of the pleasant surprises at the beginning of this voyage was to discover that almost three dozen of the guests on board had previously sailed on board Silver Explorer, mostly to Antarctica. Thus I had the very pleasant experience of greeting old friends after not having seen them for quite some time. Virtually everyone spoke about what a fabulous voyage we have had so far with large numbers of polar bear, walrus and bird sightings during nearly perfect weather. We’re all hoping of a continuation of our good fortune over the upcoming days!

 

 

Tag 7 | 18 August 2011 | Lagøya, Polar Plunge, Alkefjellet
von Franz Gingele, Geologe

Koordinaten: N 80º 24.06’, E 018º 22.45’
Wetter: wolkenlos und sonnig
Lufttemperatur: 9ºC
Luftdruck: 1021 hPa
Wind: 9 kn


Lagøya, die “flache Insel” ist unser Ziel für den heutigen Morgen. Das Wetter könnte nicht besser sein, blauer Himmel, Sonne und ruhige See. Schnell erreichen wir mit unseren grossen Zodiacs die Landestelle. Auf einem mit roten Fahnen markierten Pfad wandern wir die kurze Strecke hinüber zum Liegeplatz der Walrosse. Es ist der reinste Spiessrutenlauf! Ständig werden wir von Küsten-Seeschwalben attackiert, obwohl die Brutsaison schon lange vorbei ist und weder Eier noch Küken zu bewachen sind. Es scheint ihnen einfach nur Spass zu machen uns anzugreifen! Mit der hochgestreckten Hand als Alternativangriffsziel über unserem Kopf schaffen wir den Weg hinüber zu den Walrossen.

Die Dickhäuter zeigen weit weniger Aktivität als die agilen Seeschwalben. Die riesigen Männchen liegen faul am Strand und kratzen sich nur gelegentlich ein wenig. Es ist ja auch ein warmer Tag an dem man sich nicht überanstrengen sollte. Während wir die Hauptgruppe beobachten macht sich ein junges Männchen an unsere Landestelle heran. Es blockiert unser Zodiac, das gerade eine Gruppe Gäste zurückbringen will und kommt immer wieder auf Zentimeter an das Boot heran. Extrem neugierig versucht es immer wieder sich an unser Anlandestelle festzusetzen. Es lässt sich durch nichts vertreiben und erst nach einer guten halben Stunde verliert es das Interesse. Schliesslich können wir mit etwas Verspätung zur Silver Explorer zurückfahren. Es steht ja noch ein weiterer Punkt auf der Tagesordnung für heute Vormittag, der “Polar Plunge”!

Von einem an der Seitenpforte festgemachten Zodiac können die ganz Mutigen den Sprung ins 1ºC Grad kalte Wasser wagen. Vielleicht durch das sonnige Wetter getäuscht wagen 31 Gäste und 7 Crew den Sprung. Beim Sprung vom Zodiac gibt es kein Zögern und in weniger als einer Sekunde taucht man ins kühle Nass! Fast genauso schnell sind die meisten auch wieder über die angebrachte Leiter aus dem Wasser zurück ins Zodiac geklettert, es ist einfach nur grausam kalt!

Nach dem Mittagessen gibt es wieder eine Rückschau und Vorausschau auf unsere morgigen Aktivitäten und die Silver Explorer macht sich gegen den immer stärker aufkommenden Wind auf den Weg in Richtung Hinlopenstrasse, die Meeresstrasse zwischen Ost- und Westspitzbergen.

Auf der Westseite der Hinlopenstrasse brüten in einer Doleritsteilwand Tausende von Vögeln, vor allem Dickschnabellummen. Um 18 Uhr bringt unser Kapitän die Silver Explorer ganz nahe an den Felsen heran und lässt das Schiff mit dem Wind daran vorbeidriften. Obwohl die Brutsaison zu Ende geht sitzen noch etliche Vögel auf den Felsen und im Wasser tummeln sich die jungen Lummen mit ihren Vätern. Auch in der Luft herrscht reger Flugverkehr und der eine oder andere der Gäste bekommt eine kostenlose Guanoprobe. Nach einer halben Stunde dreht die Silver Explorer ab um unseren nächtlichen Ankerplatz in der Palanderbukta anzusteuern. Der letzte Programmpunkt für heute ist das “Venetian Dinner” und der Cocktail.

 

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