Spitsbergen

Exploring Ny Alesund, Poolepynten, Tryghamna in July 2008 and more of these exotic names shows an icy Spitsbergen where you not alone feel the cold but you can see the cold too. Nevertheless, the last couple a days Spitsbergen showed itself. The sky cleared up. The mist disappeared. The sun came out. The sharp topped mountains from which Spitsbergen got its name unfolded. Blue glaciers between the mountains pushing there way towards the Norwegian Ice Sea. Snow covered mountains with endless snow fields. Blue water curling between mountains and glaciers. Seagulls, puffins and angry sterns not only picking at your head but also shitting on it to emphasize there territory. An occassional head of a curious seal looking at you wondering what on earth you are about. Suddenly the sprouts of whales slowly moving throught the water. The joyfull jumps of dolphines make clear that this cold barren environment is full of life! Life which is very vulnerable. The cold will not breakdown any pollution fast and small litter or bigger disasteries might endanger the balance of all the life. The warming up of the earth has an huge impact on this environment even though yet not easy to see. What will happen when the north shipping route is finally open after Barentz had search for it in 1596? What will happen when oil and gaz mining becomes economical viable due to ever higher oil prices and global warming?

Close to the glaciers Hans Haverkort and I could hear deep bangs within the glaciers due to the enormous force with is build-up within these glaciers. The bangs are frightening and sound a bit like thunder. Now and then big pieces of ice fall into the sea and form ice mountains drifting in the fjords towards where the current or wind brings them. You better keep a sharp outlook while navigating in these waters. What also helped me to enjoy the splendour of Spitsbergen was the presence of Hans. Hans had arrived Thursday morning at 0100, while I was hanging out with Willem and Ingrid from the Twinga. I was still recuperating from my solo sail to Spitsbergen and did not think about sailing again for days, while Hans said it was time to move on and see what Spitsbergen was all about. And right he was.

So it was that we left Longyearbyen on Sunday July 13th after taking in diesel. We sailed towards Forlandsundet. A Stretch of water between mainland and Prince Karl Forland Island. This is a narrow but 40 miles long island giving shelter to the water between it and the mainland. However, we had 24 knots in the sundet (natural water way) giving 1.5 meters waves which did not agree with Hans’s stomach. One particular worry we had concerned the revet at two third of the Sundet. Where most of the sundet depths are over 150 meters, this part of one mile has a depth of less than 5 meters surrounded with shoals! The whalers in 1700 refered to this sundet as foul sundet because of this shoal. What would a sea do at these shoals? Break into ground seas leaving not enough water to let the Fram pass with 1.75 meters draft? We where catapulted into the sundet by wind and current with over eight knots speed. Hans steering with utter concentration to keep the line of a half miles wide with the most depth. It worked. No breakers and we smoothly got in deeper waters again, continuing our voyage to Ny Alesund. Lucky there was good shelter where we moored at three in the morning.

Ny Alesund is little more than an international settlement with researchers and students forming a little community. Apart from the Norwegians we found Dutch, French and Korean settlement. Of course, some catering for the tourists was provided who come in big cruising boats and are debarked for an hour or side seeing. We did our own tour and hiked armed over a plain towards a glacier. We saw reindeer and a Pool fox. We brought our rifle just in case we run into a polar bear which we luckily did not do. The local police or Sysselmannen (or more appropriate in this case Sysselwoman) as they are called paid us a visit to check for papers and rifle. Just to check weather the rifle was big enough and if I had any practice with it. I still remember a blue shoulder from my extensive shooting practise back home in Amsterdam.

In the evening we sailed into the Kongsfjorden just past Ny Alesund towards the glacier into which this fjord ends as many of the fjords do on Spitsbergen. Avoiding icebergs and less visible ice blocks coming from the glacier and big enough to sink the Fram, we approached to glacier up to a respectful distance. You never know when a huge piece will break off and causing a small Tsunami flooding your ship. We took pictures and amazed ourselfs about this cold but beautiful spectacle. Where in the world can you sail next to a glacier?

Next day we sailed back through the Forlandsundet with very little wind. We had a relaxing trip and stopped at a shoal called Poolepynten where tens of Walruses are taking it easy, very easy. They sit lazy un top of each other  and sometimes they fight a little with each other and smell a lot, but one would wonder about how the walruses make a living. We sailed on to Tryghamna, a save haven as the translation tells us. A save haven it is called because in the early day’s sailors notice hardly any ice would enter the little fjord. And sure enough, also for us it proved to be a save haven too, with no wind and a perfect anchorages and weather good for a beer in the cockpit. It was midnight, we decided to take advantage of the good weather and launched the dinky to get ashore. It was over 0200 before we fell asleep in a quiet and peaceful surrounding. Next morning we explored further the little fjord all the way to the glacier. A lake before the glacier, the glacier and the background with white snow fields and sturdy mountains in the back made an impressive view. We really enjoyed this scenery very much.

We continued sailing towards the temple Fjorden. Called like that because of the mountains looking like temple ruins. And they really look like that. Just look at the picture next to this text. We found a small bay to anchor and even with a strong wind coming up the Fram was very comfortably riding her anchor. Next morning we visit the Van Post Breen. Breen is the Norwegian name for glacier. This was a two mile wide glacier with a grotto in the middle. We launched our dinky to have a closer look, not risking too much with the Fram. Taking the handheld VHF, Hans went to the glacier to have a look at the grotto which was filled with hundreds of seagulls. All nice and well but every now and then the big deep thunder could be heart from the glacier when suddenly a huge piece of ceiling fell from the grotto! Fortunately Hans did not venture into the grotto. All the seagulls swarmed out the grotto to return quite fast as if nothing had happened. We knew better and took more distance just in case. It is very intimidating when you close to the glacier and take time to listen. You hear nothing but pure nature. Birds squeaking, wind blowing, water rushing along the boat and the total absence of human noise. That is the moment you suddenly are startled by a deep sharp thunder of the enormous power within the glacier which pushes the glacier into the sea. It humbles the mind!

That day we retuned back to longyearbyen where Hans took the plane to Oslo. Four hours later he sent me a SMS with the message that he was enjoying 18 degrees celsius and a good beer. Good for him.

Longyearbyen harbour was buzling with large ships and many, for Longyearbyen, sailing yachts. About 10 yachts had assembled around the limited mooring possibilities, some riding their anchor because no place was left. Spitsbergen is become a popular destination for yachties. In the evening I had a nice supprise when the Shalom, a Victiore 922 with writer Ben and his son Danny Hoekendijk moored along the Fram. It was an emotional gathering of friends who knew what they had been through sailing all the way up to Spitsbergen.