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June 9 2006

sailing away from Scotland After spending the winter in Scotland preparing for the voyage, we enjoyed about a month moving up the coast to reach Lerwick in the Shetland Islands. We tied up on the pontoon around 3pm and had a whirlwind few hours making final preparations to leave Scotland - provisioning, customs, filling water, picking up mail etc. The forecast showed 4 days of favourable winds ahead and the opportunity to head for Norway was too good to miss, so after less than 24 hrs in Lerwick we were on our way. We left Scotland in much the same way as when we arrived 10 months previously - in dense fog with minimum visibility!
Gary puts in the third reef The chart is dotted with red symbols showing the position of the numerous oil rigs between Shetland and Norway but due to the overcast conditions we only saw one, squatting like a fat insect on the horizon. It wasn't long before the wind began to increase and the seas picked up rapidly. We were expecting F6 to F7 out of the W or SW, but two days out it was a steady F7 gusting to gale force 8. With 3 reefs in the main and the tiniest scrap of jib, we were going well and Aries, our wind operated self-steering system was doing all the hard work! The seas grew pretty big, great cresting hills of water, but Wandering Albatross handled them superbly. We tried out our new Mustang work suits which have built in flotation foam that also acts as insulation and found them very warm and practical. It takes some getting used to operating in the colder climate, fumbling knots with gloves on and moving about with so many clothes!
rafted up to fishing boat in Norway the village of Saetervagen It was wishful thinking to imagine we would get all the way to Lofoten in one run and after 3 days of strong conditions the wind was forecast to go round to the north. We had a contingency plan to put into a little fishing harbour called Saetervagen, so for 36 hours we rafted alongside a fishingboat in this picturesque spot, and had our first taste of Norway. This was definitely a holiday resort and it was way too early in the season - it had that half asleep feel and not so much as a shop was open!
catching some fish As soon as the wind went back to the west we set sail again, well rested after the short break. In flat calm seas we were ghosting along and having heard so much about the fantastic fishing in Norway we put a line out the back. Before we had even finished letting out the lures we had hooked two plump Saithe, which we baked that night for tea - delicious! The next day we crossed the Arctic Circle at 66*33'N, an exciting moment which we marked by toasting Neptune with a splash of special Venezuelan rum and a slice of freshly baked 'Avalon' cake. Sailing north towards Bodo we were delighted when the elusive sun peeked out beneath the purple clouds just before midnight and gave us a first, spectacular glimpse of the Midnight Sun. With snow capped peaks off to starboard and the orange sun hovering on the horizon to port we were overwhelmed by the beauty of the north and thrilled to be in the Arctic. We reached the town of Bodo in the wee hours, broad daylight in these parts, and after tying up at an empty space on the pontoon collapsed into bed!
crossing the Arctic Circle toasting Neptune our first glimpse of the midnight sun
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June 20 2006

taing on diesel in Bodo The town of Bodo was a functional sort of place but nonetheless it had a certain charm and we enjoyed the few days we spent there. The harbour is well set up for visiting yachts with a shower and laundry block and the harbourmaster was very helpful, driving Gary out of town to pick up a propane refill. We tackled all the chores that we don't often get the chance to do like laundry, washing the boat, a big food shop etc and later rewarded ourselves with a trip to the tiny cinema! Although it is still very early in the season, there were a few other boats in the harbour and we met several crews who had been up to Svalbard so we were able to glean some useful tips and recommendations on good anchorages....
With a forecast of strong to gale force winds for several days as two deep low pressure systems approached back to back, we needed to find a sheltered anchorage to tuck into so headed out to the island of Landegode about 15 miles from Bodo. This spectacularly wild island has great craggy peaks rising to over 700m and on its west side is a protected bay entered through a maze of rocks and islets. We picked our way inside and anchored in a perfect spot with just enough swinging room, dwarfed by the mountains and with our 88lb Delta anchor well set in good sand we were totally secure. There were no other boats there and not a sign of human activity in sight - it was just us and the birds. This area has many Sea Eagles and we saw several soaring overhead causing panic amomgst the gulls and oystercatchers nesting on shore. Between spells of heavy rain the sun made brief appearances and we explored ashore where we found a fantastic variety of wildflowers and vast swathes of cloudberries just blooming - in the autumn there must be a feast of berries!
the anchorage at Landegode orchid low clouds over anchorage
sailing in the fog moored in the fifhing harbour in Vaeroy As soon as the wind eased to about F5 from the WSW we set sail for the outermost islands in the Lofoten chain, Vaeroy and Rostoya, remote fishing communities which, unlike the rest of the Lofoten Islands, are not connected by road. Sailing hard on the wind in heavy fog we just managed to lay Vaeroy but couldn't see it until less than a mile away. Precipitous peaks ring the fishing harbour, where we found a pontoon to tie to.
Cod fishing is the main industry in these islands and everywhere you look are wooden drying racks where the cod are hung for several months, drying naturally in the wind. The fishing season is actually in the winter months when vast numbers of cod congregate in the waters of the Vestfjorden and fishing boats come from all over Norway to catch them. Hundreds of tonnes of fish are landed and most is turned into either Stockfish or Salted Cod and exported to lucrative markets in Italy & Portugal. The fish dry outside for several months and at this time of year there is a flurry of activity as they are taken down and sorted, graded and packed in warehouses lining the harbours.
drying rack for cod dried cod fishing boat in Vaeroy
15 miles SW of Vaeroy the community of Rost is the most remote in Lofoten and the island had a good feel to it. Everywhere we've been the local people have been extremely friendly, with fishermen keen to point out the best place to fish or just to chat about boats and fishing! Rostoya is completely flat, in marked contrast to many small, offlying islands that jut steeply from the sea, hundreds of metres high. These attract vast colonies of seabirds and the nearby uninhabited island of Vedoya boasts the largest puffin colony in Norway and tens of thousands of Kittiwakes line the cliffs. We found a great anchorage in a narrow channel and spent 2 days there, watching the birds from a clifftop vantage point. The puffins' eggs must have started hatching as some birds were flying in with beakfulls of fish which they bring to feed their young. Sea Eagles were numerous - we counted 10 in the air at one time - and their passage brought chaos to the cliffs. Birds vanished in seconds, clouds of shrieking Kittiwakes rose off their precarious nests and the air, which moments before was filled with birds, was suddenly empty.
looking down on Wandering Albatross in Vedoya puffin flying in with sandeels puffin with beak full of sandeels
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June 30 2006

approaching Reine Reine From remote Rost at the end of the Lofoten chain we sailed north to Reine, a picturesque village at the mouth of Kirkefjord. Voted one of Norways most beautiful areas, Reine is set amid fantastic scenery, surrounded by towering peaks and looming walls of rock. Although the village itself was uninspiring, there were some great walks nearby.
walking up from Kirkefjord drying out! We took the dinghy 3 miles up spectacular Kirkefjord and hiked over a saddle to reach a wild expanse of beach on the Atlantic side of the island, feeling completley humbled by the scale of the mountains. It was pouring with rain all the way back and we got totally soaked - the diesel heater (which has been doing overtime since we arrived in Norway!) came into its own and the main salon became a drying room for several days.
the fishing village of Henningsvaer alone in Gullvika Our next stop was the fishing town of Henningsvaer, where the brightly painted wooden houses crowd along the quays lining a narrow harbour. In the winter, at the height of the fishing season, the berths are packed with fishing boats but in the summer it is quite empty. With another gale forecast, we sat tight on the visitor's pontoon for an extra day and did something cultural for a change, visiting a very interesting gallery featuring the work of Norwegian painters and photographers. As the weather improved, we moved on to a wild anchorage on the island of Store Molla. The peaks around us were shrouded in low cloud, which we seem to have had for most of our time here in Norway - even the locals are wondering what has become of the summer! It makes for dramatic views and the soft grey light is strangely beautiful.
Narrow Raftsundet, a channel between the large islands of Austvaagoy and Hinnoy, led us north and out of the Lofoten region into Vesteralen. Half way up, the famous Trollfjorden cuts off into the mountains for several miles with a small dock at the end where we tied up for the night and gathered a delicious diner of mussles at low tide. If anything, the scenery was even more incredible than before, with sheer rock walls rising hundreds of metres on either side of the fjord. An exciting scramble high into the mountains behind took us across vivid green meadows covered with cloudberries and brought us to a lake of glacial blue water encircled by snow and rock. One of our lasting memories of Norway will be of the profusion of greenery set against the dark grey rock faces and the jagged, alpine crags, fang-like against the sky.
cloudberry heaven Wandering Albatross in the Trollfjorden alpine lake
sunlit evening With the end of June fast approaching our thoughts were turning to to Svalbard. From Trollfjorden we continued through Raftsundet and stopped for a night in a tiny cove with breathtaking views towards Moysalen, the highest mountain in this area - needless to say the summit was shrouded in cloud. The current joke on board is that we have seen the Midnight sun more often than the Midday sun, which made a rare appearance the next day,revealing the mountain in all its glory. Put into Stokmarkenes, a sizeable town, where we have been making preparations for the voyage north - taking on diesel & provisions, servicing the engine and checking the ice reports....
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July 10 2006

on the dock in Stokmarknes catching our first cod Our last few days in mainland Norway were busy and memorable. Tied up between fishing boats in the town of Stokmarknes we were able to take on diesel, do laundry, stock up with provisions and find internet access all within a few hundred yards of the dock. After 3 weeks of mostly foggy weather we got a lovely surprise on the morning of our departure when we found the sun shining in a blue sky and we shed our thermals for shorts for a few hours. Making for the island of Helloya about 50 miles away we passed through a narrow sound and had fantastic views in all directions. We stopped off a rocky islet to try our luck at catching a cod with a special lure given to us by Norwegian friends and hooked a big one within 20 minutes!
Very near the anchorage was a great Kittiwake colony, easily accessible by dinghy. The birds were packed together on seaweed nests perched on every ledge along the low cliffs. They seemed to be at all stages in the breeding cycle, with some still incubating eggs and others caring for chicks that ranged from newly hatched fluff balls to awkward looking half-fledged juveniles. Sea Eagles waited high up on the rocks, sweeping through the colony every so often to snatch an unlucky chick. Their passage brought clouds of shrieking adults off their nests, and the dark, powerful eagles seemed enveloped in a swirling mass of Kittiwakes.
kittiwake colony kittiwake with egg kittiwake with chicks
The next morning brought more sunshine and mirror calm seas so we decided to motor out past Andenes on the tip of Andoya island to look for whales. This area is renowned for sightings of Sperm Whales as the edge of the continental shelf lies just a few miles offshore, dropping off quickly from a few hundred to several thousand metres deep. Only adult males range this far north in their search for food - females and immatures generally remain in warmer water. The species preys mainly on medium to large squid which they are believed to locate at great depths in the darkness of the ocean using echolocation. On our way out we had two brief glimpses of harbour porpoise and then were lucky enough to see a Sperm Whale just as we reached the 800m contour. It was about a quarter mile away and we first saw its distinctive, slightly bushy blow that angles forward and a long, dark back just breaking the surface. Then, before we got closer, it dived, raising its flukes high as it went. Over the next few exciting hours we saw three Minke Whales, mostly at a distance, and another Sperm Whale, all too elusive to capture on camera!
By supper time the fog had rolled in and the wind was picking up so with a favourable forecast for the next few days we set sail for Bjornoya (Bear Island) 300 miles to the north.
our first anchorage at Bear Island the remains of a whaling station It was a surprisingly calm passage with light winds and we reached this remote island, home to millions of sea birds, around 4 A.M. At over 74 degrees north we are enjoying perpetual daylight and there is no need to time our landfall to avoid darkness! The island is about 10 miles long and 3 wide at most, roughly triangular in shape. Although there are numerous possible anchorages, none are totally protected as the island is exposed to all the effects of the ocean swell. We first dropped anchor in a little bay called Kvalrussbukta, ringed by low cliffs and full of Fulmars and Kittiwakes. Ashore are the bleak remains of a whaling station from the early 1900's, with the rusting hulk of a blubber smelter next to a stony beach and large whale bones littering the shore, sad testament to the slaughter of a century ago.
moored in tiny Longvika cove anchored off Bjornoya radio station We spent 5 fantastic days at Bjornoya and really loved the island. Partly for interest and partly through necessity due to shifting wind and swell, we practically circumnavigated the island and anchored in every recognised anchorage. There are no permanent inhabitants and the only people there are 9 Norwegians manning the radio and meteorological station and a varying number of bird researchers in the summer months. We paid a very interesting visit to the impressive radio station on the north coast where we were warmly welcomed, offered dinner and given a tour of the station.
The rest of the time we were alone, with only the birds for company. On a narrow, stony beach with cliffs several hundred feet high preventing access to the rest of the island we spent may hours watching birds. In the safety of this inaccessible spot a colony of Glaucous Gulls were raising their chicks amongst the boulders of past rockfalls, Fulmars had nests right on the beach at the base of the cliffs and empty Eider Duck nests, lined with the softest down, were hidden in small caves. The behaviour of the gulls as they watched over their young was particularly interesting. Many of the chicks were quite large, although not yet starting to fledge, and they seemed to have formed groups that ventured away from the nests. When the adults perceived danger they shrieked their warning to the young and they would troop back, like a line of obedient school children, to the safety of certain rocky crevices near the nests. At another nest (which are little more than piles of damp seaweed) two tiny chicks looked very recently hatched. Both parents were in close attendance and when warned by the shrill cries of the adults the chicks scurried at surprising speed to a hidey hole at the base of the cliff.
young Glaucous Gull Glaucous Gull flying Glaucous Gulls with chicks very young Glaucous Gull chicks
The scenery was wild and barren, with the east dominated by the bulk of Misery Mountain (usually shrouded in cloud) rising to 536m and the north a flat plain dotted with close to 700 fresh water lakes. Vast tracts of the interior are little more than bare rock and scree but an amazing variety of hardy plants somehow survive in the harsh environment. In spite of the sense of desolation the landscape has a peculiar beauty, especially in the rare moments of sunshine, and we found it fascinating. Hiking ashore in the emptiness we felt like true adventurers and scrambling up steep scree slopes to the summit of Misery Mountain we found countless fossils of shells. From the top we had great views between patches of swirling mist and could just see Wandering Albatross far, far below. On the way down we caught a glimpse of an Arctic fox darting across the tundra and back at the dinghy we were watched by a curious Bearded Seal, named for its long, bushy whiskers.
hiking on Bear Island barren but beautiful scenery windswept on top of Misery Mountain
guillemot colony a bridled form of Guilemot On the south side of the island spectacular cliffs rise over 400 metres straight out of the sea and provide nesting sites for vast colonies of seabirds, apparently amongst the largest in the northern hemisphere. Guillemots, both Common and Brunnich's, seem to be the most abundant - in some places the rocks were black with them and they formed big rafts on the water around the island. A bridled form of the Common Guillemot occurs only in the north Atlantic and birds with this genetic variation have an attractive white eye-ring and stripe.
guillemot colony

As always with special places like this we were sorry to leave, but with many miles still to sail in the short summer season we knew we could not linger too long at Bjornoya. After several calm days, a light south easterly breeze was filling in as we set sail for Svalbard just 150 miles to the north....
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July 18 2006

sailing from Bear Island to Svalbard first glimpse of Svalbard Our passage from Bear Island to Svalbard was somewhat slow in a light breeze. All the way we had the company of Fulmars and as the sea temperature dropped to around zero degrees C in places, we were impressed by the birds' capability to not only survive but thrive in the harsh environment. We also saw small groups of White-beaked Dolphin on three occasions, the first time we have ever seen this species. They are boldly patterned in black, grey and white and are only found in the cooler waters of the North Atlantic. For most of the 150 mile sail we had fog of varying density and didn't see Svalbard until we were close to the coast - in the wee hours of the morning the fog began to clear and we caught our first glimpse of the spectacular mountains.
Gary enjoys our first encounter with ice entering Hornsund at 3am We were keeping a good look out for ice but saw nothing until around 0300. All of a sudden we spotted the first pieces, small white floes drifting low in the water, and in no time it was all around us. The excitement and novelty of our first encounter with ice kept us in high spirits for the next few hours as we navigated through open pack ice, occasionally pushing through narrow bands of brash ice that blocked our way to left and right. The entrance to Hornsund at first looked almost closed by the ice, but as we approached we saw there was a way around to the north. By 0600 we were settled on anchor, sipping mugs of cocoa and admiring the incredible scenery.
spectacular scenery in Burgerbukta Gary on the bow A day of rain and heavy fog gave us a good excuse to sit tight, catch up with things on board and get some sleep. When the following day dawned clear and sunny we were raring to go and took Wandering Albatross exploring up Burgerbukta, one of Hornsund's inner fjords. The surrounding mountainscape was magnificent, black peaks streaked with snow marching away in all directions with great glaciers winding down to the sea between them. Beautiful icebergs that had calved from the glaciers drifted in the calm waters of the fjord, tinted blue and forming fantastic shapes as they slowly melted with loud crackling and popping noises - the sound of air, trapped for perhaps thousands of years, escaping.
Wandering Albatross sails in the ice Wandering Albatross behind iceberg a close encounter with an iceberg!
the Polish Polar Station, Hornsund tea at midnight with new friends Conditions change rapidly up here and the fine weather only lasted a few hours. By lunchtime the fog was rolling back in and we made our way to an anchorage on the north shore of Hornsund. The Polish Polar Research Station is situated here and having heard a lot about it, we paid a visit. We received a very warm welcome and quickly made new friends amongst the staff and researchers studying everything from glaciology to macro algae to bottom sediment composition. Their schedules were as haywire as our own in the constant daylight and we found ourselves walking out to the beach around 10 PM then heading back to the boat for a cup of tea at midnight!
looking out over the settlement of Longyearbyen international gathering on the dock After a few days in Hornsund we sailed another 120 miles north to Svalbard's main settlement, Longyearbyen. This was a necessary stop as yachts visiting Svalbard must register with the Sysselmannen (Governor) before proceeding north. We also needed to hire a rifle as no one is allowed to go ashore without one due to the possibility of encountering a polar bear. Most of the bears move north in the summer, following the receding edge of the pack ice, but those that get left behind tend to be very hungry as their usual prey, seals, live on the sea ice. Longyearbyen is an unusual place, isolated in the wilderness with the feel of a 'frontier' town - we liked it in a funny kind of way. We were surprised at the number of boats in the harbour - the most we have seen in one place since leaving the shipyard in Scotland! By the time we left there were 8 international yachts rafted together on the small pontoon and another 4 anchored out in the bay.
iceberg in heavy fog We wasted no time in getting out of Longyearbyen as we will have to return in a few weeks to prepare for our passage south. For nearly 3 days the weather was terrible with heavy fog, icy cold rain and winds from the wrong direction and we had a tricky time navigating and searching out safe anchorages. Kirstin wrapped up against freezing rain In one fjord the glacier had retreated almost a mile since the chart was updated leaving uncharted islands and a totally different coastline - we ended up anchoring on a steep bank and got little sleep as the wind shifted through 180 degrees. The following day we had to leave our chosen anchorage a few hours after arriving when a big swell started coming into the bay - there was little choice but to carry on north in search of shelter. It was a relief to arrive in Kongsfjorden a mile shy of 79 N lattitude and anchor in a tiny, sheltered bay. The lack of sleep was taking its toll and we collapsed into bed for a solid 10 hours! We awoke this morning to bright sunshine and rumour has it it will last a few days - so we are looking forward to going on long walks ashore and continuing north up the west coast of Spitsbergen....
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July 31 2006

Wandering Albatross dwarfed by her surroundings Wandering Albatross on anchor in front of Wagonwaybreen early morning drift ice in Magdalenafjord
Svalbard is a land of extremes with a wild, raw beauty, dramatic scenery and unique flora and fauna adapted to the demanding conditions. Sailing in these Arctic waters has been a fantastic adventure, presenting us with many new challenges. The constantly changing weather was in control and our plans remained flexible in order to take advantage of whatever it offered. It seems that this summer has been relatively ice free and that even in the eastern areas most of the sea ice has gone, which is unusual. Most of the ice around came from calving glaciers, some of which are very active. More than once we were awoken in the middle of the night to the sound of ice crackling and popping around us, a windshift having filled the anchorage with drifting ice. Only the larger chunks caused any concern and they seemed to be attracted to our anchor chain as if to a magnet, requiring one of us to sit up and fend them off with the boat hook!
hard on the wind Gary has a good look at the glacier

The wind was often light and variable so we did end up doing a lot of motoring. But on the few occasions when it was blowing in our favour we made the most of it and sailed hard, covering many miles. Since the last update we have been very lucky, with minimal fog and a number of incredible sunny days. The crystal clear air almost sparkles in the bright light and distant mountains appear just a short hop away. These calm days were perfect for exploring up the long arms of fjords that terminate in walls of ice where glaciers meet the sea.
approaching Lilliehookbreen an incredible moment in front of Lilliehookenbreen The enormous Lilliehooken Glacier at the end of Krossfjord was particularly impressive. Winding between numerous small icebergs we took Wandering Albatross up towards the face. When we were about a quarter mile away we heard a sharp crack followed by a thundering roar and we saw a huge chunk of ice calve off, causing quite a surge - a reminder not to get too close!
a Bearded Seal hauled out on ice face to face with a Bearded Seal Leaving the glacier we came across a Bearded Seal hauled out on a piece of ice. These seals are easily recognised by their dense 'moustache' of whiskers and large body size with a relatively small head. At this time of year they are moulting and spend longer periods than normal out of the water. With a circumpolar distribution in the North, they generally feed on crustaceans, mollusks and fish found in bottom sediment.
the clearly visible 'high tide' mark of a receding glacier glacier It was hard not to notice the extent to which many of the glaciers have receded. Clear lines along the valley sides, like high tide marks, indicate areas of virtually bare rock, scoured by the glacier in the not so distant past. In some anchorages we tried to estimate how much glacier had disappeared using the chart, our position and the radar. We guess the edge has receded close to half a mile since being charted 40 years ago.
hiking with a rifle The fine weather was perfect for exploring ashore and we went long hikes on various islands, up broad, U-shaped glaciated valleys and over mounds of glacial moraine to reach the very edge of a glacier. The requirement to carry a rifle and the very real possibility of encountering a polar bear added a whole new dimension to our excursions ashore. It became second nature to scan in all directions regularly and to think through how we would respond if we did see a bear. The idea is to try and scare it off by shouting, blowing a horn, firing flares or a warning shot as shooting in self defence is an absolute last resort and definitely not something we would ever want to do.
Polar Bear tracks on the beach There were certainly bears around. In Magdalenafjord we were thrilled to see two, pointed out to us by the friendly Sysselmannen patrol, at a very safe distance - they slept on the shore for hours. And a few days later we came across some quite recent bear tracks on the beach at low tide. Polar bears generally remain on the pack ice where food is abundant but there seem to be various reasons why a number get 'left behind' as the pack recedes in the summer. Some may make the mistake of lingering too long on fast ice in a fjord, and then find the pack has gone without them. Others normally remain on the ice to the east of Spitsbergen but if it melts, as it has this year, they must roam overland in search of food. Still others, perhaps, just get lazy, gorging on seals in the spring then waiting till the ice brings them back in the autumn. Whatever the reason, bears on land in the summer are likely to be extremely hungry as without their regular prey of seals readily available they are forced to scavenge on carcasses, survive on birds eggs or starve.
Yellow saxifrage Svalbard Poppy At first glance the landscape appears grey and barren but the tundra supports a surprising variety of colourful flora. Purple and Yellow Saxifrage, Svalbard poppy, Mountain Avens and many others somehow survive, hidden amongst the stones. Close to streams vivid beds of green mosses flourish in the moist conditions and in drier areas the rocks are covered with an array of bright lichens.
Svalbard reindeer curious reindeer comes for a closer look! The tundra provides 'grazing' for a unique subspecies of reindeer, the Svalbard reindeer. This stocky, short-legged creature has adapted to the severe Arctic conditions - it has extra thick fur and survives the winter by building up large fat reserves in the summer. Almost extinct in 1925 due to over hunting, it has since been protected and numbers are now estimated at about 10,000.
Svalbard's shores are dotted with numerous historic remains which were fascinating to visit. At Ny London, the huts and machinery associated with an abortive marble quarry established in 1911 and abandoned a decade later are still in good condition. At Virgohamna, a large area is covered with the remains of a big hangar, various buildings, oil drums and barrels of iron filings left over from attempts to fly to the North Pole using balloons in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Sweden's S.A.Andree made a fatal attempt in a hot air balloon in 1897 followed by the American Wellman who tried many times to reach the Pole in a motorised dirigible. And at Smeerenburg - literally meaning 'Blubbertown' - we walked around what little is left of this once thriving Dutch whaling station. Founded around 1620 the station operated for perhaps 40 years, while whales were so plentiful in the surrounding fjords that it was viable to hunt them from a shore-based operation. The whales were hauled up on the beach and the valuable blubber rendered to oil in copper boilers over special furnaces known as try-works. As the whales became scarce in the inshore waters around Svalbard the land station lost its importance and was abandoned as the hunt moved to offshore waters with all operations conducted from the ships. Whale populations never recovered, and today it is a rarity to see any of the 'great' whales in these waters.
wooden huts at Ny London the remains of a steam engine at Ny London a whale bone lies on the beach at Smeerenburg
motoring out to Moffen Island compulsory swm in arctic waters! With a high pressure system sitting over Svalbard giving us calm conditions we motored out to Moffen Island, a Walrus Reserve off the north coast. Little more than a stony beach surrounding an inner lagoon, Moffen provides an important resting area for Walrus, and no one is allowed to approach within 300m. With binoculars we were able to watch close to 100 Walrus lying on the beach for hours and could hear them grunting and groaning as they jostled for the most comfortable position. This was our furthest north anchorage at just over 80 N latitude so we plucked up our courage and braved the 3 degree C water for a 'swim' - something of an Arctic tradition!
A few days later when walking on a beach back on the 'mainland' we came across a group of 4 Walrus resting peacefully on the sand. We were able to watch as two more came up out of the water causing a great commotion. One was larger than the others and seemed determined to get into a prime spot between them. It barged in, almost on top of two others, and several face-offs where tusks were displayed followed. It was very interesting to watch their behaviour until finally things settled down and they were all comfortable, stretched out on the beach scratching.
face to face with a walrus sparring walrus relaxing on the beach!!
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August 15 2006

setting sail from Svalbard In our hearts we were not ready to leave Svalbard but with many miles ahead of us we knew we couldn't linger. At the beginning of August the forecast wasn't looking too great, with SW winds expected for days to come - smack on the nose! But on the 2nd we had NW winds in Longyearbyen and decided to take our chances and get moving. Late in the afternoon, escorted by a following of all our friends - the Arctic Terns, Fulmars, Kittiwakes and Black Guillemots - we motored out of the harbour and hoisted the sails. The NW breeze sped us 40 miles or so out of Isfjord but as Spitsbergen disappeared into the fog behind us it proved to be short-lived and the true SW wind returned.
sailing en route to Iceland For 3 days we sailed as hard on the wind as we comfortably could making the best possible course, tacking regularly to take advantage of slight windshifts. Our course plotted on the chart told the tale as we zigzagged our way slowly into the wind, making perhaps 80 to 90 miles a day in the right direction. The weather was consistently overcast and wet with heavy fog and steady drizzle... Nonetheless we were in good spirits as we settled into our watch pattern of 6 hrs on, 6 hrs off. With relatively calm seas we were getting good sleeps and felt more rested than we had in a long time.
on watch in the cockpit a hearty breakfast We never seem to tire of the wild and empty ocean world, the endlessly changing vista of water and dramatic skies. There were seabirds around us all the time and we had one exciting sighting of an incredibly tall, columnar whale spout about 3/4 mile away which we believe was a Fin Whale. Luckily neither of us suffer from seasickness and in fact find that we are constantly hungry at sea - hearty breakfasts and dinners help keep up morale!
reefing the mainsail With the approach of a deep low pressure system the wind finally began to back to the S and then SE, inevitably picking up as it did so. Over the next 24 hrs the barometer plummeted to 980hpa and we soon had double reefs in both the main and the jib. But the expected gale didn't materialise and we charged along in a F6, finally making great speed in the right direction. A front associated with the low brought more rain then dense fog swallowed us, reducing visibility to a few hundred yards. As the center of the low passed over us the wind died almost completely, leaving us wallowing uncomfortably in big, confused seas before picking up from the NW about 12 hrs later. Overnight the wind was a steady F7 gusting to F8 and the sea grew rough very quickly. We got little sleep with the violent motion and began to wonder whether we would be forced to keep sailing instead of stopping at the island of Jan Mayen as we had hoped.
approaching Jan Mayen Island Jan Mayen is a remote island about two thirds of the way from Svalbard to Iceland. Only 3 or 4 yachts a year sail here and not all of them manage to stop and go ashore as there are no totally protected anchorages. Needless to say it attracted us like a magnet! As we approached early in the morning after 5 1/2 days at sea, the wind was gusting to 40 knts around the north coast which is dominated by the mighty Beerenburg mountain, a still active volcano. But it seemed that the island gods were smiling on us, for the sun broke through the low clouds and about half way down the island we found enough of a lee to anchor, albeit in very rolly conditions.
Wandering Albatross anchored beneath the mighty Beerenburg mountain The swell was so big, crashing onto the beach, that landing ashore on the first day was out of the question. The outlook was for fine weather as a high pressure system built over the island, and by the next morning it looked as if landing might just be possible... fantastic landscape of Jan Mayen
Paddling ashore in the dinghy we had to time the swell just right, riding in on a crest and leaping out before the next wave swamped us. It was well worth a boot full of water as we had a fantastic walk in bright sunshine. The volcanic landscape was almost surreal with beaches of fine black sand and great folds of solidified lava filling the valleys, cloaked in lurid green moss.
hiking into the fog on Jan MAyen In the end we spent 4 memorable days at this magical and unique island although to do so meant moving anchorage 4 times and putting up with perpetual rolling. A crew of 18 special people man the Jan Mayen radio/meteorological/LoranC station and we were offered an incredibly warm welcome by everyone on the base. Unwittingly we arrived on a very good day - not only was it "hot pool" night but there was a birthday celebration on the go as well. We were invited for dinner, spent an hour in the outside heated pool, enjoyed our first Norwegian sauna and adjourned to the bar for a great fun evening. The next day the station commander gave us a tour of the island by 4 wheel drive and later we hiked up into the mist shrouded hills, fascinated by the strange rock formations and spectacular scenery. The entire experience was unforgettable and we left Jan Mayen reluctantly, with the feeling that we had made some new friends amongst kindred spirits....
surrounded by Fulmars as we leave Jan Mayen There were more Fulmars around Jan Mayen than we have seen anywhere else and as we left we were surrounded by birds. The onwards passage to Iceland took another 3 days of very varied conditions. Light westerly winds to begin with were followed by almost no wind at all and accompanied by drenching rain and fog. Then the breeze began to pick up from the NE and as this was directly behind us we poled out the jib, sailing goose-winged for a day. The icy Greenland current was in our favour giving us up to a knot of extra speed. 2 Minke whales surfaced a few hundred yards from the boat and we were able to watch them for several minutes, beautiful sleek creatures. Unfortunately Iceland has resumed hunting of these whales.
our first sunrise in over 2 months As we sailed south we were leaving the latitudes of the midnight sun behind and it began to almost get dark for a few hours each night after Jan Mayen. On our last night at sea the sky cleared in the wee hours to reveal a gleaming, perfect half moon and a sprinkling of stars. Venus sparkled on the horizon behind us as the sky turned a vivid orange, heralding our first sunrise in over 2 months! Ahead the misty blue cliffs of Iceland promised a whole new adventure...
As we approached the NW coast we crossed the Arctic Circle once again, thus completing the Arctic phase of our one year voyage. We would like to take this opportunity to thank those of you who have understood and embraced our objectives in undertaking this challenge in aid of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. Your generous donations are much appreciated and your support means a great deal to us. It is very encouraging to know that there are like-minded people out there who share our passion and concern for the future of the marine environment.