1230. Most of the Delos gang (plus James) are still sleeping, despite playing the whale fish song (twice). Mia’s pouring coffee, Karin just climbed out of bed and Alex is looking groggy at the saloon table. Brady & Brian are passed out on the settees and James & Kiril are ostensibly still in the forepeak bunks. I’ve got a bad back and have been up since 0945 because I can’t stand to lay down.
Isbjörn is anchored at Virgohamna in low clouds and patchy fog. The cockpit is dry for the moment, but the forecast looks damp. There is graffiti on the cliffs above Virgohamna – white letters spelling ‘METEOR’ in all caps, and what looks like ‘CRASHED’ underneath it. Then another name to the left of that which I can’t make out. The remains of the balloon expeditions are scattered around ashore, which we’ll go explore on this afternoon’s mission.
We sailed up from Trinityhamn in Magdalenafjord last night after dinner. While Mia cooked sweet potato soup and baked fresh bread (which she started when we returned to the boat from a little shore mission when a rather large chunk of glacier ice got uncomfortably close to the boat, anchored in the little bay. Mia & I dinghied over to it. I broke off a chunk and started eating it), Alex, Brian & I went back ashore to visit the two Sysselman rangers camped at the hut on the beach. They’d come by Isbjörn a bit earlier in their RIB to check in on us, ask about our permits and have a chat. The bow of the RIB was filled with plastic trash from the fishing industry – big nets, braided rope as thick as my forearm, plastic bins & floats. They’d been out on patrol and gathered up what they could. This would be stored behind a big rock near the cabin and the big ‘Polarsyssel’ boat would come by to collect it in a few weeks time.
The reality…plastic washed up on the beach, part of the Sysselman’s job to collect. Photo by James Austrums.
The rangers stay based in the wilderness for two month stints, explained Øyvind and Tjell, who were paired up together and had just been dropped off a few days prior. They have food and supplies for the duration, and the cabin is heated by a wood stove. Inside, it’s surprisingly cozy and bright – white painted walls, windows that look out onto the fjord, a separate bunk room cut off from the small kitchen and living quarters. Like a simple beach house, and very Scandinavian. Next to the wood stove they had a grey IKEA chair exactly like the ones in our living room. On the walls, maps of Svalbard proper and the Northwest Corner, which was these guys area of responsibility. They had invited us in for a look around, and were happy to speak on camera about their jobs.
Both of them have ‘real lives’ in mainland Norway, Øyvind as a police officer and Tjell as a biologist. They took leave from their normal jobs to come to Spitsbergen for the summer, and only met each other the week before getting stationed up north. All together, there are just 6 rangers stationed around Spitsbergen, 3 pairs like Øyvind and Tjell. In Trinityhamn; down in Trygghamna in Isfjorden; and outside Ny Ålesund. There jobs are to keep the tourists in line, project the natural and cultural heritage of the islands and pickup trash. Clever that each pair of rangers has both a scientist and a police officer. Stereotypically, Tjell, the scientist, had long shaggy hair, while Øyvind was clean-cut, like a military officer.
Alex, Brian & I spent an hour or so with them on the beach, helping to pile up the plastic behind the rock and chatting about their jobs while they got out of their drysuits. Their RIB is big, with a 150-HP outboard on it, but it’s not THAT big, and if they’d wind up in the water, the drysuits they had on would literally save their lives.
Downwind to Danskøya
We weighed anchor around 2100 and finally got to hoist the sails. We haven’t had a proper sail since the 40-mile beat out from Skansbukta in Isfjorden, after our misadventures in Pyramiden (if you don’t count the little 8-mile downwind jog under the jib after the walrus at Poolepynten, which I don’t). The breeze was up from the SW, and once out of the shifty fjord, we had 20-25 knots of consistent wind. With full sail up, Isbjörn got to stretch her legs, and made 8 knots most of the way outside of Danskøya. Brady, Karin & I drove the boat while the rest of the gang slept or lounged below. Alex worked on editing photos on her laptop at the salon table.
Remnants of the airship days at Virgohamna, from the late 1800’s. Details coming in the next post!
We gybed to head into the channel between Danskøya & Amsterdamnøya. Once in the channel, as if someone hit a switch, the wind stopped abruptly. We motored the last mile or so into the anchorage at Virgohamna, delighted to find the place deserted (this is a popular stop for the other tourist boats given the history here). James made hot chocolate for most of the gang while I made some for Karin, Mia & I from the plain cocoa onboard. We got to bed at an almost reasonable hour, around 0100.
Until next time, HOLD FAST!
This article was syndicated from 59º North Sailing // 59º North Blog