Life in the Wilderness
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26th June: I left home after a fantastic 4 weeks catching up with everyone. It really was one of the best few weeks Iâ€™ve had at home in years, probably because so many people are sewing roots back home in Sunny Norn Iron. You all know who you are!! Cheers all for making me now want to sew routes in Norn Iron too. Iâ€™ve always had doubts about where to set up home but especially after this trip my heart is very very much at home.
I flew Belfast-London Oslo and checked into a very decent hotel in downtown. The main airport is about 45 minutes out by bus. Quite Ryan Air â€śesqueâ€ť but is actually
27th June: Toured around the city a bit. Did the old bus tour as usual which was pretty good. There is an old Olympic ski jump over looking the whole city which is well worth a look. Got chatting to some old couple who were in the seats opposite, very nice they were too, not exactly riveting company but very nice.
Went to a â€ścheapâ€ť eatery this time, 15 quid burger and fries, bargin!! I was also in the supermarket and priced cans of beer just to see. Exports were all about 2.20 a can!! Lets just say a stag do to
28th June: Up super early, 4.30, to get my â€śSkybussenâ€ť to the airport. Lucky I wasnâ€™t late as it was right on time to the very second, judging by the time on the bus stop. They seem to be very efficient the old
Then it was onto the plane, first to Tromso and then on up to
Once again I was sitting beside the oldest couple on the plane, this time I have no idea if they were nice or not. I think they were German from what grunts and groans I heard go between them.
I was actually very surprised at the size of the plane, a 7somethingsomething, carrying enough passengers to make life at the very small airport a bit of a shit fight!! It made me laugh when the lady announced over the loud speaker â€ś we do apologise for the crowdedness but come back next year and our new terminal will be ready.â€ť It reminded me very much of the old Eglinton airport with a very small carousel room and far too many people.
While I was sitting on the plane waiting to get off I was trying to suss the temperature by the body language of the people already walking across the tarmac. As I had about 3 layers ready to go in my hand luggage I didnâ€™t want to appear either like the Michelin man or a right wuss by putting them on straight away.
I saw varying degrees of shiver from a woman (obviously a tourist too!!) who had gone for the Michelin look to a business man in just a suit and not a hat or gloves to be seen, I thought he might have visited these parts before!!
By the time I got off I was actually pleasantly surprised at the â€śbalmyâ€ť temperature!! Really there and then it didnâ€™t feel any colder than a crisp January day at home, with zero wind.
First night back on board was good. Oh yes my bags did make it after a good while waiting and watching the wee door where the bags come out with bated (and visible) breath.
The boss was due to arrive that afternoon but in the morning we got word he is not very well unfortunately and wonâ€™t be joining us until wed the 4th July. This was most unfortunate as it meant that the weekend would be â€śoffâ€ť as the guys had been working very hard the last few days.
I did end up getting talked into taking a trip ashore that afternoon after the realisation that once the boss arrives he will be here for basically two months. So what I'm saying is that I really wanted to work but the captain said to take all the time I can while the going is good!!
It was this afternoon that I got to see Longyear properly for the first time. It really is not a big settlement with apparently 1800 residents of which we probably saw a total of 20 at any one time (and that was in the pub). Sort of place were a car passes every ten or fifteen minutes. It seems pretty geared up for the wealthy tourist with a couple of very good outdoor type shops selling everything you would need to trek to the North Pole. Also a couple of tour guide places offering everything from husky dog sledge trips to mine tours.
Coal mining is a major part of life here and has been for many years, there are ruins of mines dotted all over the surrounding mountain sides with a few mines still in operation hence the Coal power station in the town. To make coal of course you need vegetation and compression which means this peace of rock was once covered with lush forest and at a much lower latitude. Today you are lucky to see a flower due to the cold climate up here at 78 degrees north.
After our quick tour of the town we went for what turned out to be a 4 hour hike/walk up to the nearest glacier. First thing a bit odd was that we have to carry a gun for all trips outside the town for risk of Polar bear attacks.
The scenery was just spectacular. The biggest thing that is very easy to do here is to underestimate distance. As there is no other reference than huge mountains, what looks like a short jaunt is actually very very far indeed. You could see how this could be the undoing of some people if not prepared.
After a great walk we stopped into what could be described as the local tavern in town. Loads of hangers at the door, shoe holes for wet muddy boots and a rack behind the bar for drinkerâ€™s guns. Quite a funny thought, you can walk in with a gun, hand it to the barmaid, drink 15 pints (if your loaded that is) ask for your gun back and walk out!! I was the one to walk into the pub with the rifle over my shoulder and of course lots of jokes started about Irish terrorist groups setting up training camps in the Artic!!
The food was great and much welcome and the pub very cosy indeed, apart from the steam rising off our feet!!
Sleep was in abundance that night. The air doesnâ€™t come much fresher than up here and really does knock you out.
The weekend was good.
The Ownerâ€™s son flew in and arrived at 0200 in the the early hours of Thurs. We launched the Nelson and docked up waiting for them to arrive. It really was very surreal waiting for them at that time of the morning in the bright sunshine. We got them onboard and then off to bed for a few hours kip at around 0300. Very difficult to get to sleep as I think being out in sun at that time does confuse ones timeclock somewhat.
The Owner himself arrived at 0930 so it was up again at 0700 as usual to get the Nelson ready and warmed up for his arrival.
Pretty much straight away we lifted the Nelson back on board and off we went cruising up the west coast of
The first place we cruised to really was pretty amazing. Only a couple of hours around the coast from Longyear is a settlement called Pyramiden. It was a Russian coal mining settlement set at the foot of two huge mountains. It had a population of 1000 people until one day in 1998 the Russian government evacuated the entire place, Miners, Wives and Children just like that. So quickly in fact that they even left a lot of their personal possessions behind! For what reasons no one is too sure it seems, only the Russians know.
We got quite close in and it really is a proper ghost town in the middle of no-where. There is even a pile of coal just sitting there that they just left. Apparently until recently there was still a full library in the centre of the town books and all. As it is so remote only a few boats land there every year.
As I write now it is 2000 and I have just finished various duties for the day. As we are in tight and not very well charted waters extra watchkeepers are a must, both for â€śgrowlersâ€ť (semi-submerged icebergs) and uncharted shallow water. At present, seas are calm as we are in a huge fjord with a spectacular Glacier at the head of it.
The scenery so far today has been nothing short of astounding.
Bed soon I think as its been a long enough 24 hours.
Just heard the owner call Kevin (Captain) on the radio to tell him how spectacular he thinks the scenery is, good to know heâ€™s happy!!
After passaging all night this morning we arrived in Ny Alesund and tied up on the dock. This is the only other Norwegian settlement in
I have to say I didnâ€™t even step ashore here other than to have my picture taken with the sign, look out for it later.
After the guests went for a brief walk we casted our lines and were off again. The weather at this stage had turned purely fantastic with our guide repeating that we are so lucky to have hit the weather so good. Iâ€™m guessing it is the equivalent to the one day a decade when you can sunbathe on any beach in the north of
Next it was off to Magdalena Fjord, definitely one of the most spectacular anchorages I have ever been in, a real natural wonderland.
We launched our tenders and after the guests dinner went for a tour up to the face of the Glacier at the head of the Fjord.
The other caution that has to be taken when approaching the glacier is that bits can actually break off below the surface and therefore rush up like a giant torpedo to the surface, not what the hull of a small fibreglass boat needs, never mind the people in it!!
It truly is phenomenal to witness such power. To think that ice carved the Fjord we were anchored in 1000s of meters high and hundreds deep it makes you realise ice is a very much underestimated substance in terms of its strength.
Back to the ship that evening about 2130 and the ownerâ€™s son and his girlfriend decided to go kayaking round the Fjord. Our guide said this particular evening was probably one out of two per year you may get that are so idyllic! Bit like the one night a year you can have a barbecue and sit out in shorts until 11pm in
So Kayak they did until 0100!! Of course its still as bright as midday, so why not. I was on watch so of course I had to be there when they got back to get them back on board safely and pack away the toys. It really felt bizarre at that time of night. A few of the crew were also awake and someone said it made them feel like they had been drinking all night and the sun had come up and it was time for bed! Only difference was that it was 0100, it hadnâ€™t been dark and unfortunately we hadnâ€™t been drinking all night! Anyway, time for bed it was.
We were on the move fairly early that morning, even after my late night on duty.
The weather was really funny as we had bright blue skies over the land but out to sea we could see clouds moving at what looked like 100 miles an hour. A bit worrying really with the guide/pilot explaining to us that the weather up here changes quicker than anywhere else in the world. Full respect has to be given to that and its something that gets complacent people into a lot of bother. On that note I forgot to say that yesterday a small boat approached us in the calm of Magdalena Fjord and turned out to be a group of scientists who were conducting research in a very small speed boat type vessel.
As a result of the inhospitable and changeable conditions our bridge watching and navigation is even more meticulous than normal up here. It has to be, navigating through the Fjords with charts that seem very good but that are still very old can be a bit daunting. There is ice around of course and the possibility is always there of having to run from that weather that can change at a seconds notice. We always have two men on watch and then our guide/pilot to keep us right however the responsibility still relies with us. Our main procedure when in the Fjords is to plot position from the radar every six minutes accounting for whether we are on, port or starboard of our desired course and changing as required.
Often on more relaxed passages the bridge can become a bit of a social hangout with other crew members coming to visit the watchkeepers as they go about their duties. I remember doing the 2000-0000 watch on my own on the way across the
The bridge is a very much more serious place up here due to the conditions and geography.
The other very important duty is Polar Bear watch. We are half way through our â€ślong weekendâ€ť cruise of
The other reason our navigation has to be very precise is because we really are back to basics with the paper chart. It has been very easy to become dependable on electronic GPS chart plotters but unfortunately up here they simply canâ€™t be relied upon.
That afternoon we anchored off Virgohamna home of some of the most historical adventure attempts in history. The most important of which was the attempts between 1896 and 1909 to hot air balloon from a site there to the North Pole. The Richard Bransons of that era set up shop here with everything to wait until conditions were correct for an attempt. They shipped the lot from mainland
We were very lucky to get ashore on this windswept and very bleak island as it is strictly protected by the government as a heritage site. The reason we got ashore is because we are relatively few in numbers in comparison to the cruise ships and our guide is obviously a well connected man!! The remains we saw certainly didnâ€™t look like they had been there for well over 100 years.
See Polar Bear Sighting for July 8th.
Today was the day we tried to make it as far north as we possibly can!!
Anchor up early as usual.
Yet more amazing sights ahead of us as we progress towards a very small low lying
Moffen is a resting place for the Walrus, pronounced Valrus if youâ€™re Norwegian!! We were able to get 300 metres off the beach to check out the Valrus. They are monsters. Huge to say the least. To be honest they donâ€™t exactly look active as they were all lying on the beach in what looked like their families.
Moffen is one of the largest communities of Walrus in the world and therefore is very heavily protected and conserved. Once again, a great sight, even if they were just lying there!!
After a few snaps being taken we were off again heading directly north towards the Polar Ice Cap. Our goal was to get as far north as close to the North Pole as possible. This all depends on the loose bergy ice that flows out from the cap. If the wind is Southerly then all the smaller bergs get packed up into the cap and so getting further north would be a possibility. Although we have had fairly light northerlies our guide was correct is his assumption that the ice would be quite spread out.
Only after about an hour we were surrounded by flows and progressing very slow and with great caution.
We eventually had to slow down due to the ice really starting to pack up and the bergs getting much bigger.
We did cross 80 degrees north!! Pretty far north to say the least. We had a plan to tie up to an iceberg, so we did!! A couple of the guys got dry suits on and with sledge hammers and poles in hand, went ashore to hammer in our â€śpegsâ€ť to tie up to.
We ended up launching the tender a kayak up there, less than 600 miles from the North Pole.
Then it was off back as to make it back to Longyear to make flights in the morning we were a bit pushed for time. Another great day. I took it pretty easy in the evening and then was on watch from 2000-0000. One of the most amazing watches Iâ€™ve ever had, the weather was still unreal, flat calm and the visibility was absolutely phenomenal . We saw mountains on
Well thatâ€™s it, trip to the Artic over.
After he had left it was straight into getting the vessel ready for sea as we had to head straight towards
It was sad leaving Longyear, even after such a short time. It really was a fantastic trip.