Seasoned Arcturus traveller Peter Wright relives his recent late season Arctic voyage. In September, even though the weather can be less settled, there is still much to see and experience – as his report shows.
“Thank you for yet another excellent trip and all your efforts to make life easier for me to travel up to Spitsbergen and spend a few days in Copenhagen on the way back to Switzerland. Everything on that front worked well. The accommodation in Oslo was excellent (the best scrambled eggs I have had in a hotel for a very long time!)
The Radisson BLU Polar at Longyearbyen is getting a little ‘tired but it was perfectly OK for the short stop before joining Plancius the following day. This was my third visit to Longyearbyen but I still found new points of interest walking around the areas where a firearm was not required.
Embarkation by Zodiac was a smooth and well-oiled operation. I was more than a little surprised when I was greeted on board with “Hello Mr Peter” by one of the crew I had known on a previous trip! (Either an exceptional memory or very good team briefing).
Once everyone was settled and the normal briefings and boat drill had been completed, we sailed clear of Isfjorden to be met by a bit of a swell, which took its toll. During the night, someone must have pressed the wrong button as the emergency alarm was sounded! One of the fastest wake-up and out of the bunk calls I have made since being in the RN! Certainly livened things up a bit, luckily it turned out to be a false alarm.
The following morning found us entering the fjord and Hamiltonbukta, and out of the wind. On one of many Zodiac excursions we were entertained by two young blue fox cubs playing catch on the beach, seemingly unaware of us being so close (other than an arctic hare this was the closest we would get to any non-marine animal on the trip). Leaving the fjord we headed towards Greenland, unfortunately we didn’t visit Moffen Island, perhaps due to weather or other restrictions, I never found out. We had ideal conditions during the passage across to spot seal and whale, including harp seals and later a Sei whale. With some excellent shiphandling, the captain manoeuvred slowly around and seemed to have the ship in the right spot when the whale resurfaced. The following day we sighted a gin whale and a little later two gin whales swimming together. Again, great shiphandling and the whales stayed close – a great experience. During the afternoon the weather started to change (we were heading towards a deep low) and later that night the wind picked up (force 9) as did the sea – reportedly 5 to 6 metres wave height, so it was ‘lively’!) It was a relief to enter Myggbukta the following morning. The landing here had to change to plan B, then to plan C due to one sleeping(?) polar bear, and again another bear and cubs. All too far away for respectable photos. We finally made a restricted landing at Sirius Patrol Hut (of the elite Danish Naval Unit). The next few days found us passing through Franz Joseph Fjord (rain and more rain). At Blomsterbugten there was hardly a flower in sight! Walkers were in three groups: Long, Medium and Turtles. I went with the long (three hour stomp) where we had the luck to see musk ox, hare and a gyrfalcon. Finally returned to the ship somewhat damp and windswept but it was worth the effort.
The remainder of the days we sailed through the fjord for Ella Island. Ops change to plan B, Marie Island (the wind makes things difficult at Ella) and another walk in the rain! The next day found us in Alpefjord with the Stauning Alps rising above. During the forenoon a Zodiac cruise was made along the front of the Gullygletscher, followed by a landing at Segelsallskapet. For anyone with leaning towards geology this place must heaven – unique rock formations in reds browns and yellows. Even to a semi-rock ‘lover’ it was impressive.
The next day found us in Vikingebugt. Here we sighted a polar bear with two cubs on a high plateau; once again too far for good photos. After lunch a Zodiac cruise around the bay, making a landing near a waterfall tumbling through a basalt intrusion (not dissimilar to Iceland. By now, the weather had cleared giving blue skies and the chance to witness the Aurora. We were not to be disappointed; not a strong display but enough to sit back and enjoy. The following morning those of us who were up were greeted with a super ‘alpine glow’ sunrise. The anticipated landing at Sydkap came to a grinding halt with a ‘katabatic’ wind (gusting 45kts) just as we approached the landing site. So the captain found a safer site to land. Here I enjoyed a walk over the tundra with all its beautiful autumnal colours of yellows, reds, silvers and rusty browns and just enjoyed the peacefulness. However, the wind had other ideas as to how long we could stay ashore, so the staff decided to get us back to the ship asap. Just as well, as the wind was at steady 30kts and the afternoon’s landing at Jytte Have went to Plan B, to C and then to ‘no-go’. Finally, we finished up cruising among the icebergs. We followed a similar pattern to the previous day: Landings and walks on the tundra with musk ox not too far off. Some got within 500metres or so before they were spooked and took off. One of the highlights was spotting narwhal blows, but these whales proved to be camera-shy and were not seen again. Later in the afternoon a landing on Red Island and some more spectacular views over Rodefjord. In the evening the sky began to show signs of a change and sure enough, next morning as we arrived at Constable Point (close to Ittoqqortoormit) there was rain, and later, snow. This time I elected to stay onboard (along with over half of the other passengers!). After lunch we arrived off Ittoqqortoormit and were able to wander around the village in our own time and get a postcard or two. Then it was time to say good-bye to Greenland and head for Iceland.
Next morning found us about 100km off the north coast of Iceland (an area I got to know quite well in the early 1960s ‘Cod War’ with the RN) in a slight swell. As we headed towards Akureyri, a sperm whale surfaced close to the ship and the captain stayed with it for short while before resuming course – only to be interrupted by a pod of six or seven orca hunting.
Arriving alongside late evening, after dinner I and some others went for a walk in the town before turning in at the end of another interesting Arctic trip. Where, yet again, I had some wonderful experiences and met fascinating people from various parts of the world – Australia, New Zealand and Korea to name a few.
Once again thank you for all your effort in making this a relaxed and enjoyable journey”.
All photographs courtesy of Peter Wright