With Delos in the Arctic // Part 3: North Spitsbergen

3 Jul

  Ice men & Isbjorn. Photo from  James Austrums , who was IN the icy water!

Ice men & Isbjorn. Photo from James Austrums, who was IN the icy water!

Anchor Watch in Magdalenafjord

It was all but 50 miles from Ny Ålesund up the coast to the NW corner of Spitsbergen, and the gang was pretty slow-moving after the midsummer/birthday party in the village the night before. Nonetheless, we wanted to keep moving. After topping up on water and scrubbing the muddy footprints off the deck, we set out around 1700 and pointed the bow north again, taking turns on the watch in the calm, grey weather, on a motorboat ride up the coast.

The passage itself was uneventful in the extreme – one person stayed on watch for 90 minutes at a go ion the cockpit, while the rest of the crew slept. We tried sailing at first, but the wind was just a tease, and the engine ran for the entire passage, save for a few minutes as we entered the fjord when Karin and I managed to sail a bit in a brief southwesterly that wrapped around the mountain at the fjord entrance. Magdalenafjord is known as a popular cruise-ship destination, so we were pleasantly surprised to find it empty as we steamed in at 0200.

  Kiril & Brian, 'ice men' on the iceberg in Magdalenafjorden. Isbjorn in the background.

Kiril & Brian, ‘ice men’ on the iceberg in Magdalenafjorden. Isbjorn in the background.

There was ice towards the head of the fjord, lots of brilliant blue chunks broken off the twin glaciers at the eastern terminus of the water. They were bigger bergs than we’d seen thus far, bigger even than some of the ones we played with down in Hornsund, and bluer. The ice lent a big of color to an otherwise greyscale day. Of course, despite the hour, we opted to head deeper into the fjord to play with the ice rather than head to anchor and sleep.

  Dropping off the 'ice men,' Brian & Kiril. Alex on ice defense, Brady filming, Mia photo-ing, Andy driving!

Dropping off the ‘ice men,’ Brian & Kiril. Alex on ice defense, Brady filming, Mia photo-ing, Andy driving!

Alex guided the boat in amongst the icebergs and we motored gingerly deeper into the fjord and the ice, which was fairly concentrated. One of the bigger bergs just off the starboard quarter cracked and rolled in slow motion as it became top-heavy and tipped over into the sea. We found a particularly flat berg that appeared as if it hadn’t, and wouldn’t, roll. I maneuvered Isbjörn alongside while Karin held a fender to keep us off slightly and Alex stood by on the ‘ice defender’ pole in case any smaller bits came close by. Then Brian & Kiril disembarked the boat onto the iceberg, axes in hand and smiles on their faces. Meanwhile James climbed into his dry suit and jumped overboard to swim and film in the teal-blue water, surrounded by ice. Brady launched the drone, Mia was taking still photos and I was at the helm. Everyone in action, everyone loving it.

  Mia & Kazza on polar bear lookout.

Mia & Kazza on polar bear lookout.

So we sat there for an hour, James frolicking around in the icebergs with a permanent grin on his face while Kiril & Brian explored their small piece of floating glacier. Isbjörn Just bobbed in the slight swell, engine off, while we filmed the scene and kept one eye out for polar bears. We know they’re here – August had seen a mother and two cubs just two days before, and we’d heard from another boat that they’d seen a lone male not long ago. We steamed past a walrus out for a swim at the mouth of the fjord on the way in.

  The girls driving Isbjorn NORTH! Mia, Alex & Karin.

The girls driving Isbjorn NORTH! Mia, Alex & Karin.

Eventually we did anchor Isbjörn in Trinityhamn as planned, in 35-feet of water inside a perfectly formed crescent bay made by the sill of the retreating glacier. There’s a Sysselman cabin on the shore where rangers stake out the place to guard against cruise ship tourists trampling on the historic sites in the fjord. There used to be a whaling station here, and there are still grave sites from the fisherman who died here in the 17th & 18th centuries. The Sysselman is in too – a red RIB is moored to the rocks a few yards from the cabin, and we heard word in town that the big ‘Polarsyssel’ ship had recently dropped some rangers here and on Danskøya. We hope to run into them for a chat today. Anyhow, we finally got to bed at 0400 and began the anchor watches. It’s now 1230, midday, as I type. I had the last anchor watch, and in turn the morning wake-up watch. As soon as I finish this, I’ll put on some Lemon Jelly on the stereo and start cooking eggs to wake up the crew an decide what the mission of the day will be.

Until next time, HOLD FAST!

// Andy

This article was syndicated from 59º North Sailing // 59º North Blog


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