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Day 8 - July 21, 2009 - Fugelsangen, Spitsbergen

By Chris Srigley, General Naturalist

Weather: Partially cloudy with gusting winds

Last night our log concluded with the sound of sledgehammers pounding on the ship as we pushed north through the waves. The weather was rough and had been predicted to get worse.

As my eyes opened and I grabbed for the clock I could already tell that the time was still early, I found it to be 0530. As I rolled back for a few more hours of sleep it dawned on me, the seas had calmed through the night.

Arriving on the Bridge after a bit more sleep, I was excited to find we had passed the night at greater speeds than predicted placing us off the island of Fugelsangen with enough time for a landing.

Fugelsangen, located just off of the NW corner of Spitsbergen within Northwest-Spitsbergen National Park is one of my favorite landings. From shore you receive majestic views of Vasahalvoyas peaks and glaciers while being able to visit a one of the region’s Little Auk colonies. 

Numbering in the thousands, this colony can be a noisy place to visit, and has thus given the island its name Fugelsangen, meaning “Bird Song”. For any bird enthusiast this stop would be a major highlight of our trip.

Finishing up our scouting, we pushed to shore with the lecture staff and bear guides to begin preparations for our guests’ arrival. Chris Collins and Claudia Holgate placed a route along shore for everyone to follow to the colonies while the rest of us removed ice from the landing and came up with a plan. The rocks on the beach would make this a little difficult.

With a slight wind still blowing there was also a bit of a swell on the shore. Noticing this, I radioed our Expedition Leader Robin West to see if he could send my chest waders and a shore man over for us. It was very evident that we were going to need to be in the water holding boats. At the time I could have never predicted what this would mean for me later.

As the first groups came ashore, all went well and they headed off with Chris and Claudia for an hour to the colonies. As long as they were able to be quiet and sit still for a few minutes, the Little Auks would be wising over their heads by mere feet going about their business as if they weren’t even there. It is this ability to get right up to the scree slopes that the Auks nest in that makes this landing so special.

During the first group’s time onshore the winds had begun to pick up again increasing the swell. With this in mind, Juan Carlos grabbed some chest waders and joined us on the shore party as we loaded the Zodiacs for what could likely be a wet return.

Although the waves were breaking over the back of the Zodiacs, both our shore man Ottie and I were able to remain dry while standing almost chest deep in the water.

Our second groups came to shore as the winds continued to increase. Monitoring the landing, we were able to continue without having to bring people back early due to the swell onshore.

As we loaded the last Zodiac, it was finally time to get the staff off shore and return to the ship for some lunch and a warm drink, which Khan was sure to have prepared at the side gate for all of those returning from out morning’s activities. It had been a cold and wet morning with smiles all around.

With Daniil pulling away with the last of the guests, we pushed him out into the swell. As I turned to walk up the beach to grab my things I faintly heard a call over the radio, “My eng… not… arted!” I turned around to find Daniil’s Zodiac drifting in the swell away from the landing and back to shore. Immediately I began to sprint along the shore in hopes of catching them before they reached the rocks again and were turned sideways by the wind.

Jumping into the water, I was able to catch the Zodiac, straighten it out and wait for Rob Suisted and Christian Walter to come along to tow them out from shore. Once away from shore and its rocks, Daniil was able to restart the engine and make his way back to the Prince Albert II.

Each year in the Arctic I take the polar plunge once, I just wasn’t prepared for it today!

All of this and it was only 1330, what more might they day be bringing?

As we enjoyed our lunch in The Restaurant, Captain Aleksander Golubev brought the Prince Albert II up to 80°N where we would push into the pack ice in search of wildlife.

Pushing along we were able to spot bearded seals hauled out on the ice, several groups of Harp seals, the odd ringed seal and just before dinner several groups of Walrus who had likely come from Moffen Island some 15 miles away.

We had of course been hoping for the mighty Polar Bear to appear from behind a hummock or two, but the Walrus, being our first of the voyage, put smiles on all of our faces.

We’ll just have to save our PB’s for tomorrow!

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