MS Stockholm; Svalbard Trip Diary

Henrik Haaning Nielsen

14 Aug 2015

The M/S Stockholm, Day 1

We arrived by taxi to the harbour where the beautiful old M/S Stockholm was waiting for us.  After settling in we were introduced to the crew, had the safety drill and left port - no civilisation for the next 10 days.

To get ready for our polar exploration and after having introduced ourselves, Ronald gave the mandatory lectures about zodiac and polar bear safety. During dinner we made quite some speed so when we came up after we could enjoy the view and birdlife of the mouth of Isfjord.

Day 2

The movement of the ship during breakfast told us already that it would be a windy outing, it turned out that the fjords were funnelling the wind and the anemometer measured speeds up to 30+ knots. But polar explorers as we are, put on all our foul weather gear and went for the first time in the zodiac for the landing at Ingeborgfjellet.

It was indeed a wet and bumpy zodiac ride but the hike amongst the reindeer and the hat lifted by an Arctic skua made it a jolly good outing.

In the afternoon we were protected completely from the wind and the zodiac cruise in front of Recherchebreen felt like a walk in the park. On the ice near the glacier was a bearded seal and a curious ringed seal was playing with the boat.

Day 3

Already before breakfast the Arctic showed a nice phenomenon in the form of a mirage of Prins Karls Foreland which lay behind us as we were sailing along the “seven glacier coast” . We were dropped off by Danskøya and sailed in the zodiac to Kobbefjorden which honoured its name as there were seals hauled out close to the beach. To get the best pictures we went on shore and shot from the beach, an Arctic fox passed by too.  

Further into the fjord we found the remains of the hut from the two men who starved to death here in 1922.  Near Virgohamna we even found more seals hauled out on the rocks. After lunch we stayed in the pinniped modus as we visited the walrus haul out on Smeerenburg, the famous Dutch 17th century “blubbertown”. Sailing with Stockholm into Fuglefjorden where the glacier was very active we found a polar bear that nicely rolled around in the snow for us.

Day 4

The Stockholm had sailed all night and we woke up in Hinlopenstreet, near Alkefjellet a huge Brunnich’s guillemot cliff thriving with life.  Magnus, the captain, closely manoeuvred the ship twice along the towering dolerite cliffs.  

Sailing south to Bjornsundet we spent a lot of time on deck in stunningly beautiful weather with fantastic views all around Hinlopen, just before going into Bjornsundet we met the pack ice. In Bjornsundet what first looked like more bearded seals turned out to be four polar bears! A mother with two cubs and a big male, they were in “hibernation” mode and stayed in the middle of the big ice floe.

That night we stayed at anchor in Binnebukta but it became a short night, the bears started to walk and swim in the middle of the night and we followed with the zodiac after them.

Day 5

We headed South to look for pack ice, our eyes were a bit smaller than normal due to lack of sleep but they went wide open when we met walrus and bearded seals on the ice. This was all lit brightly by the sun accompanied by two sun dogs and a halo, with the reflection in the mirror-like waters it was quite spectacular. 

Around lunch we met the edge of the pack ice and the ship started to rattle and rumble. Sometimes we broke through, sometimes we were forced to push the ice away, all afternoon we scouted with many folks from the bow and we saw the rare (dark morphed) pomarine skua and some ivory gulls but just when we started to take pictures of the kittiwakes picking up Arctic cod we were met by a bear, and another one and….after dinner we suddenly had three bears around the ship. A magnificent sighting when two of them came really close and had interaction with each other.

Day 6

There was gentle pitching during the night as we sailed slowly towards Bråsvellbreen, when we turned for the final approach it started rolling but as we were soon surrounded by pack ice the waves completely disappeared.  First we sailed along the towering cliffs of Austfonna where there were still cracks visible in the surface until we saw the first waterfall which made clear that Bråsvell was around the corner with its majestic front. Getting there the fog also came in which made the biggest fall even a bit spooky. West was the course afterwards, aiming at Torellneset to look for walrus. The ice became very dense but that also brought the walrus to us as we had a group of males on a floe. 

Just when it became clear that the ice was too thick and dense to reach Torell, we were visited by a beautiful red nosed polar bear who started washing herself just 5 meters from the ship, WOW! 

After that, memory cards had to be changed and batteries charged just in time to get ready for another curious bear, a big male this time which tried the taste of the Stockholm by licking the hull and even cleaning some portholes.

Day 7

We set foot on Nordaustlandet near the canyon on Kalkstranda, for a moment we considered trying to get in by zodiac but when suddenly the big cornice broke off with a loud bang and a very big splash it was clear that we would continue on foot.  The soft permafrost made it a bit of a struggle for some of us but our expedition leader was a state licenced mud walker so everybody came out, dirty but with the wellies still on! On the valley floor with the huge snow bridge in the background we took the group picture and had a piece of Steve’s voluntarily donated chocolate.

During lunch we hopped around the corner into Murchinsonfjorden where we took a long zodiac ride to make sure we would not miss out in opportunities to cross the 80th parallel, we had coffee at the beach at 79,99905 degrees north which was according to Mary close enough to be happy. Venturing deeper into the fjord the geology became very beautiful lit up by sunlight. Not seeing a lot of big wildlife we started spotting animals in the snowfields, amongst others the tortoise and the hare.

Day 8

Perfectly calm weather and at anchor near Phippsøya part of the seven islands, the northernmost archipelago of Svalbard. As the walrus were not on the haul out we went searching for them while circumnavigating Martensøya. The first one was quite skittish but the more we saw the better the interactions became. Culminating in a curious group of females with calves boiling the water in front of the zodiac.  Just when we were called back by the Stockholm as pack ice came drifting in, we had a huge male on an ice floe.

In the afternoon we visited 19th century graffiti on Chermsideøya and made another long zodiac ride. Just after Ronald had explained why we all were in the boat and not in the ship, a polar bear showed up and everybody could enjoy the bear from close by and take low angle pictures. During the night when we passed the deep entrances of Hinlopen and Woodfjord we spotted two whales.

Day 9

With a tiny bit of drizzle we were at anchor near Biskayerhuken from where we left Stockholm for a zodiac ride into Morenelaguna for the birdlife. It was a very shallow ride into the lagoon but we were rewarded with a curious seal and nice encounters with various birds. During lunch we repositioned into Raudfjorden where we spend the afternoon. First a flora walk on Kapp Svensksund, a choco break at Raudfjordhytta, a zodiac ride in front of Smithbreen and a look at the bird cliff in Hamiltonbukta where some chicks of the Brunnich’s gullimot were already on the water. All this made three of us so excited that they had to cool down by means of the famous PolarPlunge and there they went like the little birds they tried to fly but went into the water with big splashes.

Day 10

During the night we sailed along the continental shelf to enhance our chances of seeing whales but the seas were rougher than expected and we saw none, but we had the memories of the minke whale from yesterday still in our minds. In the morning we landed at Poolepynten but were surprised to find nobody home; all the walruses had gone, fresh polar bear tracks explained why. So continuing south we saw a dead hooded seal floating in the water. Luckily we saw a lot of alive animals at Alkhornet our last landing; reindeer from close by and even an arctic fox came checking us out. After dinner we sat up in the lounge for the farewell words of the Captain and the guides, what a trip it was!

If you want to have wildlife encounters like Henrik on the M/S Stockholm - get in touch with our polar experts.

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