Arctic Expedition April 2018

This year we decided to do an expedition while we still had some of the winter light conditions. In late April, the sun is still low on the sky, which meant we could still see the colors that occur from this. The ice conditions during the arctic expedition this year were different from earlier expeditions, with less ice than normal. The drift ice was open up to the seven islands and down into the Hinlopen strait. It gave us good possibilities for sailing, even though this was a telltale sign of the warming climate.

22. April

We set course towards the north at 17:00 on this day, the 22nd of April. The weather was good and already after a few hours sailing we found our first Walruses resting on the ice. We got some nice shots of them. Because of the ice we had to sail outside the Prins Karls Forland and in the wonderful red sunset light we found one big male Walrus at the south corner of Forlandet. We were using S/Y Arctica, a wonderful sail yacht built in steel, and the experienced Heinrich Eggenfeller, which has lived his whole life in Svalbard, was our skipper.

 

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Already the day before the cruise started we had some nice encounters with Arctic Foxes nearby Longyearbyen
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Walrus resting on drifting ice nearby the island Prins Carl Forland
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A lonely Walrus was resting at some drifting ice nearby Forlandet

Sailing towards the northwest corner of Spitsbergen

Northwest Spitsbergen

23. April

We visited the fjords Magdalenefjord, Smerenburgfjord and Fuglefjord. In the late evening we did a zodiac cruise towards the glazier in Fuglefjorden. The wonderful light gave us some nice shots. There was already some ice calving from the glazier and old fjord ice melting very fast. The weather was fantastic and the sea was completely calm and reflecting the landscapes. It gave us some good opportunities for  reflection photographies. In Smerenburg-fjorden we saw some Walruses on blue ice.

 

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Reflections in Smerenburgfjorden
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Frozen sea water on the sail yacht Arctica II
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Wonderful light in Smerenburgfjorden

24. April
We arrived in Raudfjorden, searching the areas for wildlife. This Arctic expedition we had a spectacular experience by seeing some thousands of Brünich Guillemots waiting at sea for their nesting cliffs to be free from ice and snow. We spent the day searching, and found some Bearded Seals there as well, but so far no sightings of any Polar Bears. In the evening we planned for spending the evening and night at the Walrus colony at the island Moffen. As expected, we were lucky to have the midnight sun provide us with wonderful light. We spent 5-6 hours with the Walruses during the night and had lots of interesting behavior and nice light at the colony.

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Walrus behavior at Moffen
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Walrus resting the weight of its head on its tusks

25. April
In early morning after the landing at Moffen we started sailing towards Hinlopen. In Lomfjorden we found some Walruses and Bearded Seals, and we saw the first footprints from a Polar Bear. We had some good images of Walruses resting on the fjord ice there. The temperature was around minus 10 degrees celsius and during nights the water froze. Later in the day we set course for the bird cliff in Hinlopen, "Alkefjellet", and had some extraordinary experiences and pictures there. 2-300 000 Brünich Guillemots were swimming around in the water by the cliffs, waiting for the ice melting up in the cliffs. It was still very early for nesting, but the birds were already preparing for it. Afterwards  we sailed as far south as we could in Hinlopen. Fog and ice made it difficult to find wildlife, and after some hours of rest in the ice, we headed for Whalenbergfjorden in the late night.

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Brünich Guillemots waiting on their still frozen cliffs
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On the water 2-300 000 birds was waiting for their places in the nesting cliffs
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Guillemots migrating over the ice covered Hinlopen strait

Arctic expedition and engine trouble

26. April
We anchored in the ice of the fjord Whalenbergfjorden around 1 PM. A few minutes after anchoring a Arctic Fox came by. It was not very close, but it gave us some chances for photos of the fox walking on the huge area of ice covering the fjord. We also had a second fox come by. We had a good morning sleep and woke up around midday. We searched the ice in the fjord and had some great shots of Bearded Seals again. Also here we could find footprints after a Polar Bear.

In the afternoon, an engine problem in which some ice destroyed a pump for the saltwater cooling system for the yacht engine occurred. After hard work to fix it, we had to call for a spare part from Longyear. In the evening, one hour later, a helicopter from Sysselmannen in Svalbard landed nearby and we could pick up the spare part. I want to thank Sysselmannen and the fantastic rescue system in Svalbard for being there in situations like these. There's always a small chance for trouble like this during an expedition. Only few hours later,  we were on the move again.

Bearded Seal posing on the ice. We had several very good situations for this
Bearded Seal posing on the ice. We had several very good situations for this
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Saved by Sysselmannen and Lufttransport helicopter

27. April
After the trouble and the sightings in Whalenbergfjorden we sailed for the Murchison fjords further north during night and arrived late night. We decided to anchor in the ice. We could not see any signs of Polar Bears on the ice but some older footprints on land were visible. The night was beautiful and cold. We walked on the ice and got some nice pictures from the place. We spent most of next day there too,  and after some searching, we discovered a Polar Bear there. It was far away on the fjord ice and we tried to wait for it, but it never came closer to us.

Patterns of ice in the Murchisons fjord system
Patterns of ice in the Murchisons fjord system

28. April
After 8-9 hours of sailing we reached Woodfjorden and discovered some Reindeers on land nearby the trappers station ”Mushavna”. It's a well known place for Polar Bears and we were still looking for them. The Reindeers gave some nice opportunities for pictures.

We spent the day sailing around in the area. There was still a lot of fjord ice left, and we now could see fotprints after Polar Bears in several places. Late at night we found the first bears far out on the ice near Liefdefjorden. We had to wait for them there and anchored in the area.

29. April

We spent this day nearby the Polar Bears we had seen on the ice in Liefdefjorden. After several hours of waiting we had some good chances for photographes.

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Reindeer nearby the trappers station "Mushavna"
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Male Polar Bear without any marks from scientists by Dunøyane in Liefdefjorden

30. April
Next stop was Kongsfjorden for this arctic expedition. We had some gray weather during our sailing along the western coastline of Spitsbergen. In Kongsfjorden it was raining when arriving there. By ossian Sars we found some Arctic Foxes, but it was sad to see one of them carrying a scientific necklace. It was not a pretty sight and we documented the case with some pictures.

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Arctic Fox carrying a satellite necklace, obviously it was bothered some by the necklace

1-3. May
From May 1st we arrived Isfjorden and searched the fjords there, Ekmannsfjorden, Dicksonfjorden and Billefjorden, for wildlife. We found several Polar Bears, Walruses and Bearded Seals there. We had some really good situations with Bearded Seals and Polar Bears. Some Walruses resting on ice gave us also some good situations. The weather was good and the surface of the sea looked like a mirror. Northern Fulmars flying over the sea gave wonderful possibilities for pictures.

One Polar Bear mother with a small cub came close to the yacht the last day in Dicksonfjorden. We were anchoring at the ice edge and stayed there during the last night. We had the moter and cub at pretty close range in early morning the May 2nd.

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Walruses in Ekmansfjorden
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Polar Bear mother, marked with a neckless, and its small cub
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The last sightings of the Polar Bear mother and cub before our arctic expedition ended and we sailed for Longyearbyen

As the last image on the blog we have posted a map of Svalbard and the route we sailed. This early spring had very little sea ice and we are very concerned about how this will develop in the future. If the ice continued to decline Svalbard will definitely change from as we know it today. In a decade a similar arctic expedition may look very different from this one.

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Arctic expedition map

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