We are leaving Tromsø for Spitsbergen at the end of May. We have been granted a permit to circumnavigate Spitsbergen. This unique journey lasts eight weeks. First, we explore the still very wintry Hornsund and, after a stopover in Bellsund, we reach the large Isfjord and Longyearbyen. During the summer, Longyearbyen is a rather dusty town, but we visit it several times. We use rented bicycles to shorten the way to the town and make our shopping easier. At the Sysselmesteren (governor)'s office we get permission cards to buy a "month's ration of alcohol". We buy some good local beer - from the northernmost brewery in the world, of course. This is a superlative that is often used here... A highlight for us in Longyearbyen is the concert with Patti Smith. A fantastic concert and nice to see her, at the age of 76, full of energy, together with her son, on the stage of the culture house.
In the harbour, there is always a lot going on. There are private sailboats and many commercial boats moored at the jetty, mostly in packs. We met "friends" from Tromsø again, they visited us for a drink and offered to help each other with repairs. A problem with our anchor winch we are able to repair provisionally ourselves, so that we can continue anchoring and it will not be an obstacle to our onward journey. In Isfjorden we watch some walruses - they will not be the last - and spend an interesting day in Pyramiden, an abandoned mining town from the USSR era.
The journey continues north along the west coast of Spitsbergen. The scenery is always different, as long as we see it. At a shallow bar in the Forlands Sound between Prins Karls Forland and Spitsbergen, we unfortunately encounter a very unpleasant fog. Using slow speed and keeping a very watchful eye on the water depth (only 4 metres in the Foreward Scan), we manoeuvre our way across this area. In the following unmapped bays and coastal sections, too, we no longer want to miss the "foresighted eyes" of the scanner below the waterline. The same goes for the radar, which is very useful for spotting medium and larger icebergs in the fog. To see even small growlers of blue ice and driftwood, despite all the technology, only a good look ahead of the bow helps.
The forms of the mountains change and there is less snow on the slopes. Glaciers remain monstrous and impressive. The rocky and flat tundra is, on closer inspection, interspersed with ever-changing varieties of small plants. The further north we get, the more eager we become to see the pack ice, or the ice edge. We are increasingly having ice at the anchorages, but this is from the many calving glaciers that flow directly into the sea here. The noise of bursting ice on Aegir's steel hull is sleep-inducing.
However, we don't go all the way to the edge of the ice. The ice has retreated very far to the north. At least we cross the 80th parallel north before heading south again into Hinlopenstreet. At this point we cross a larger ice zone. From the distance it almost looks as if there is no way through. Up closer, with a lookout on the cabin roof, we find a way through this zone without any major difficulties. This opens the way for us to continue south along Hinlopen Street and circumnavigate Spitsbergen.
We take shore excursions - on foot or on skis - and always find it a bit exciting because of a potential polar bear encounter. A few times we hear of polar bear sightings in places we have been shortly before. After we've crossed the north coast and head south again between Nordaustlandet and the east side of Spitsbergen, we get to see a total of ten of the imposing animals ourselves.
We see individual large males or younger bears together with the mother bear, on land or swimming. On one occasion very (too) close to the anchorage, running over a large ice floe, directly towards our ship. Christine had been busy moving the ice floes that were stuck to the ship.
While looking at the ice around us, she sees a curious polar bear coming purposefully, along an ice floe path, towards us. The bear could climb from the ice floe directly onto the Aegir. He doesn't react at all to loud calls. When it was 10 m away from the ship, Gregor could scare it off with a shot from the shotgun and the bear turned back. During our last shore leave at the southern tip of Spitsbergen (Edgeøya) we see three polar bears running in our direction from a distance. We complete this shore excursion quickly.
Other Arctic animals we observe in large numbers from different distances. Right from the start we see the short-legged Svalbard reindeer and their cast off antlers.
There is a rich variety of bird life. Beautiful are the puffins and funny to watch are the guillemots. We observe spectacular mass gatherings of gulls on glaciers or guillemots on steep cliffs. Difficult are the contacts with the Arctic tern, because they attack from above and poke you in the head if you get too close to their breeding grounds. Unfortunately, you can hardly see these breeding sites, as they breed directly in the tundra on the stone floors. So we do a couple of hikes, waving sticks above our heads, to ward off these attacks.
We are impressed to see more than 30 beluga whales at an anchorage in Woodfjorden on the north coast. At first, they swim purposefully towards our ship, only to dive away quickly after circling a few times. We had the impression that they had inspected us and judged us to be harmless.
We occasionally see seals, either lying on the ice or curiously looking out of the water and playing with Aegir. Arctic Foxes are looking for eggs, just like the polar bears. And their offspring are always nice to look at. The Walruses, which we pass again and again, are imposing. They are true colossuses, lying in rows on the beach or even in the water. We do not want to get too close, firstly because they smell bad and secondly because we respect their mass, their unexpected speed and the length of their tusks.
Numerous whale skeletons from the whaling era lie around on the beaches, some of which have grown into the earth. The remains of old whaling stations, wooden boats, trappers' huts from earlier expeditions and weather stations from the Second World War can also be marvelled at around Spitsbergen. Spitsbergen's global importance can also be seen in the large international research station in Ny Ålesund.
During this two month period we got a grandiose impression of the mountains, tundra, arctic desert and the seasons. Snow and ice landscapes, thaws and then sparse blossoming of vegetation.
At the end of our trip (end of July), the vegetation together with the position of the sun already pointed to autumn again. Apart for these unique experiences in a very impressive part of our world, we are very satisfied with our planning. It was wonderful to meet new nice people, to meet them again on the route and to spend evenings together. We were not caught by surprise by any storm and overall we had pleasant weather and moderate wind conditions. In addition, we had few foggy days and could enjoy the midnight sun very often without clouds. The passage to the Norwegian mainland took three days, unfortunately under cloudy skies. The weather forecast was right and we reached Hammerfest after a mix of motorsailing and good sailing in downwind and half-wind conditions. Once we reached the coast of Finnmark, we were thrilled by the contrast of the lush green landscape. We have left Norway almost still in winter and will return in summer. We will now fully enjoy this with pleasant temperatures as we sail further south in Norway.
And finally, two fiction tips about Svalbard:
Christiane Ritter, A Women in the Polar Night and
Line Nagell Ylvisåker, My World is Melting.