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Day 7 - July 18, 2008 - Bamsebu and Van Keulenfjord, Svalbard, Norway

By Christian Walter

Noon position: 77 degrees 33,2’ N and 015 degrees 05,6’ E

As a result of yesterday’s cancelled landing at Russebukta (polar bear intending to use shore party as lunch), the Prince Albert II had made good progress and arrived at the entrance to Bellsund quite early in the morning. Having seen the most ice of our expedition around Edgeoya, and between Edgeoya and Kong Karls Land, the sea en route to Bellsund had been mostly ice-free. For the first time we had experienced seas that were not completely calm, although there was no reason to look for pills or any other medicine to prevent sea-sickness.

Geir and Jan were sent ashore at 7 o’clock at the shore of Van Keulenfjord to check Bamsebu’s surroundings, while everybody else awaited the call to go ashore at Calypsobyen on the western side of Recherchefjord. An early breakfast gave us enough energy to cope with a 2 and a half hour excursion. Alas, the intended hike up the muddy slope behind the Polish station to have a look at the old radio station and then traverse the fluvial terrain in front of Skottglacier, crossing the Skott River (=stream) and heading back to the landing site along the beach, was cancelled! The scout party at Bamsebu had found so many beluga whale bones on the beach that it was considered a more interesting site. Once ashore, apart from the possibility to stretch one’s legs after 2 days on board, the walk permitted us to see more of Svalbard’s flowers, get a closer look at a stranded whale, and look for some old fox traps, set up by Norwegian hunters in the early 20th century.

The hut on the shore, which is still used today by visitors from Longyearbyen (see the outhouse attached to the hut), had been kept up by the Sysselmannen (Svalbard’s Norwegian governor) as part of the “cultural” heritage. The area had once been used by foreign interests to search for minerals/coal, but in this case a number of artifacts, including several boats next to hundreds of whale skeletons/bones, indicated whaling – not coal-mining.

The return to the Prince Albert II was a bit adventurous, as the wind had picked up and the waves had gotten choppier, thereby increasing the possibility of a wet ride “home”. As usual, Star was waiting with hot chocolate or hot cranberry juice (with Bailey’s, Cognac Hennessy, or simply some cream, if one preferred). Even before Conrad could announce the Martini tasting in the Panorama Lounge, already 22 guests had gathered around Karolina to obtain the latest in-depth information regarding the correct preparation and consumption of Martinis – definitely a good start for their lunch as we made our way to the Nathorstglacier, named after the Swedish geologist and polar explorer Alfred Nathorst. 

For some, the afternoon was spent enjoying a Zodiac cruise in front of the glacier, for others it meant relaxing onboard. Those that ventured out into the cold were fortunate in seeing not just ice (from dirty, grey white to transparent and blue), but wildlife encounters were interesting as well. Arctic terns, common eider, King eider, ivory gulls, seals (ringed, bearded and harbor seal), a polar bear mother with two cubs, and the usual suspects – the guillemots – were seen while we toured the glacier front. The two cubs had been spotted by Mr. and Mrs. Specht – thus deserving the special prize offered by captain Demel: the Dom Perignon vintage 2000.

Early evening saw Conrad giving a talk on the conversion of the World Discoverer into the Prince Albert II, and a briefing (walruses at Poolepynten and hiking at St. Jonsfjorden), while recap had Brent talking about birds seen so far, with Tony explaining the Beluga whale site, whaling and the stranded whale, before it was time for yet another very tasty dinner.

Although the Svalbard part of the voyage was nearing its end, every day had brought something new and exciting, and dinner conversations centered on the possibility of seeing walruses from the Zodiac, or taking the last opportunity for a hike at St. Jonsfjorden.

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