Arctic adventures

22nd July 2019

Svalbard has blown me away, it’s amazing.

Spitsbergen means pointy mountains, derived from the Dutch. In 1925 the Norwegians were granted sovereignty over Spitsbergen and introduced the old Viking word Svalbard. So confusing but Svalbard covers all the islands and Spitsbergen the mainland. Svalbard is situated between 74degrees and 81degrees North. It is about the size of Scotland. Official population for Svalbard is 275O people, Longyearbyen is 2200 people.

The plane was due in at midnight but we had problems leaving Oslo and had to disembark and wait for another plane. I awoke to us descending and caught my first peak of a Svalbard mountain showing through the clouds below.

It was of course still light as we touched down at 3am. I was too excited to sleep but managed a couple of hours at The Coal Miners Cabin. Breakfast of herring and cheese and then I flew out the door to explore.

It was then time to move further into town to stay for my last 2 nights on land at The Funken Lodge. I was supposed to be in The Radisson but they had overbooked, as compensation they put me upgraded me to an better hotel including a free three course meal with wine package every night. I was delighted of course.

Once settled into this beautiful authentic hotel I walked around town for a few hours. It was raining but not cold. I went off piste briefly and that was a mistake, I thought something had hit me on the head but thought nothing of it, my hood was up on my jacket as it was raining. I was aware of a bird zooming in on me. And then I started to be attacked by 3 medium size birds, swooping to my head. I kept walking, waving my arms in the air. Finally I must have walked away from their nests and I was left alone. Apparently they were Arctic Terns, and are well known for attacking..never mind the polar bears, watch out for the birds.

In the afternoon I was picked up to be taken to the husky kennels, I have been very excited about this trip and it did not disappoint. Our guide DeeDee was fabulous, she knew I was wary of the dogs so helped me get my confidence. We were given some thermal overalls to wear and wellies. We were introduced to many of them. We then harnessed up 8 onto the wheeled sled and set out into the countryside. It was great fun, stopping along the way to give them water and check them. I drove them for part of the way, would love to try it on snow one day. Once back we put everything away, helped feed them and went to see the latest puppies. Great to learn more about their incredible slick operation with 300 dogs. Some are for racing in the winter, some for tourist trips.

I then had a relaxed evening eating smoked reindeer and Arctic char, followed by a much needed deep sleep.

23rd July

So humbling to see the support I’m getting from back home, some lovely messages as friends follow and comment on the pictures I am sending back. I really appreciate it.

Today I booked a guided hike up the mountain from Longyearbyen called Plataberg. As you cannot venture out of Longyearbyen without a guide due to polar bears, there are more bears than people. Our guide carries the rifle and watches over us. I love mountains, and though I questioned whether I was fit enough I completed the five hour hike with no problems. Hiking up here gave amazing views over lower Longyearbyen and Adventdalen.

The variety of terrain from rocks, shingle, ice and snow at different gradients is right up my street, I loved every minute. My Finnish guide and I were joined by a lovely couple from Hungary and a few others who were all really nice. Plus a Greenland husky called Tola. I have really missed hiking in the mountains, I feel confident that I could do some more in the future, my knees and stamina overruled my head! Watch this space for planning some climbs as I follow Guy around the world.

This trip is doing my confidence and well-being the world of good, I am so happy, I think this is going to be one of my best adventures.

Today I particularly thought about a special relationship I have. Sending all my love to my best friend who is my amazing husband. Though we have the same dreams, some of our adventures may be taken separately at times. So we support each other, and our separate adventures actually are an adventure together, if you see what I mean.I think that is unique and helps you to strive to achieve those dreams, it makes me really happy. Love you so much Guy Waites.

25th July

During the morning of the 24th I took a guided town tour to learn more about this fascinating place. We drove out to coal mine 7, which is the last active coal mine and expected to continue until 2031. I then packed my things ready to join the boat.

I joined Narwhal last night, it was great to finally meet Katherine and Eric and Yacht Narwhal. The other two crew like myself were Lisa from Germany and Cloudagh from Dublin, lovely ladies who I was about to enjoy the next stage of my adventure with.

I had a really long sleep on Narwhal, not sure if it was the travel tablet or I sleep better on boats but must have had 8 hours.

I notified as many as possible about the webcam in the harbour so those back home could watch us slip lines.

We left about 10am from Longyearbyen into Isfjorden, which is huge. Very quiet until we got to Grumantbyen and then we saw 2 humpback and 2 minke in a space of an hour in Barnetsbay. These were logged in the record book with details , to be sent to the MCS, Nordic polar institute and Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust. We also saw many birds including puffins.

We came out of the Isfjord and motored to Capp linne to anchor for the night. This is the last time we would have phone signal or Wi-fi for quite a while, bliss.

A lovely day on the water, getting used to the boat and getting to know each other. We had spaghetti bolognese followed by fruit and panacotta.

We are still at 78 degrees north and have done 35nm.

27th July 2019

We left Dunderbukta, glorious downwind sailing, no need to wear our Arctic suits.

However as we headed south the fog came in after lunch and was relevant to move.

We are now 76 degrees north. Done 49nm, and wind up to F5.

We headed into Hornsund fjord where the polish base is, occasionally a few polish words could be heard over the radio. This is a research station, about 20 researchers looking at weather, glaciers and probably many other things. There are 2650 glaciers in Svalbard. And more than 40 bird species including Ptarmigan which is the only bird to winter on the island.

We came straight into being surrounded by icebergs, this was Isbjornhamna,it was incredible, so majestic.

However no good for anchoring because there were so many icebergs, so we made a 45 minute motor across the fjord to find a bay with no icebergs.

We were welcomed by a beautiful sound called Gashamna.

Snow capped mountains, glaciers and just as we were about to anchor Eric shouts ‘belugas’ and sure enough on our aft were a pod of buluga whales.They are so beautiful, my first beluga sightings.

It’s now nearly midnight. I had felt slightly unwell after dinner, it was delicious quinoa followed by banofee pie but the boat rolling around took its toll on me. I sat quiet with water until the sick feeling passed. Hot water bottles were filled and I fell into a deep sleep.

This will be the first time tonight I will see the midnight sun, I did a 360 moment on video to capture the moment.

Tomorrow we will take the rib ashore, this I am excited for.

28th July 2019

We had a lie in , which was needed after such a long day sailing yesterday. Awoke to Eric cooking bacon and eggs.

Today I did two readings with the secchi disk, a tool for measuring pyroplankton. The cold waters around Svalbard are rich in oxygen, supporting plankton to provide food for crustaceans and fish.

We set off in the rib onto the sounds beach to explore and start our beach clean in this remote place only accessible by boat. Erik carried the rifle and we kept an eye out for any danger. We could also see a blubber works remaining hut and foundations with whale bone remains. They are thought to have been whalers from England. The blubber oven foundations look like small mounds. The hut was also used by a trapper and a Russian expedition station. One Norwegian hunter spent 8 years there, 4 of them on his own as he likes it so much, I could see why as it really is stunning here. Today the remains of the hut are used by the scientists from the Polish station on the other side of Hornsund.

Once on the beach we took off our Arctic suits and life jackets, a rare sunny day made the sun strong and quite warm. We immediately found some fishing gear on the beach. I started the recording OSPAR recording sheet.

Otherwise the beach was clean. However we had to go back in the rib as we could not cross the river to get to the hut.

We walked the beach and collected some litter, plastic and discarded camping food packaging. A lone reindeer watched on and my favourite puffins in the water.

After a snack we made our way back to the hut, on exploring the remainders up popped two little furry faces, we were greeted by Arctic Fox Cubs. What a delight, we kept quiet and still as one cub posed and wondered around blissfully as we snapped the camera. I was in awe, it was amazing.

On returning to his den we went into the hut to see the remains of pans, seats, tools and a bed. Outside the remains of whale bones and whaling equipment.

After a few hours we came back in the rib to Narwhal. Us three girls changed into our swimming costumes and swam for about half a minute in the 4 degrees Arctic Ocean, it had to be done but oh my it was freezing. There were many giggles and shrieks. As soon as I got out I warmed up but felt refreshed.

As we got out some neighbours arrived, a small expedition boat called Plancius. They took ribs out to the other end of the beach and then left by tea time. So we once again had the sound to ourselves.

That’s our bath done for the next week as tomorrow we set off on our ocean passage across the Barent Sea.

My brain is ticking over, thinking about beach cleans around the world to raise money for UNICEF. Possibly Portugal, Punta, Capetown, Fremantle, New Zealand and Bermuda?

29th July 2019

We prepped for our offshore passage back to Norway. Leaving Svalbard at 9am. With a few pockets of fog we didn’t see anything else until 10pm when south west of Svalbard at N76.10.22 E16.08.58 we saw a flock of birds feeding on our port side which drew our attention when two white beaked dolphins breached. Then two more came on the starboard side towards our bow. Then two appeared behind us, all appearing to be hunting . These are the only dolphins found this far north.

We are sailing along at 6-8 knots, good visibility now with a slight sea state.

One plastic bottle was spotted, too far to reach but recorded using the marine debris tracker which gets sent to NOAA.

Now into our watch systems of two hours on, four hours off. A passage of about 550nm to Tromso. Great to be offshore sailing again. Everyone in good spirits.

30th July 2019

We are sailing past Bear Island or Bjomoya. I have just woken ready for my on watch, it’s 7pm. There is a delicious pot of ravioli on the stove. Each time we get up there is a pan of something delicious and hot to help ourselves to on each watch. Eric is a great galley slave.

Sailing has been good, Genoa out and doing 8-9 knots in slight sea state conditions at F5. We are not going into the island though as the wind has got up and we would be beating into the wind to get anywhere near the island.

On previous watches we were joined by a seabird with one foot, he has ridden with us for at least 70miles, sometimes sitting on the liferaft, or the ropes or wherever he can grip or sit with one foot. Maybe he’s tired but he’s is quite tame and entertaining.

Later we were joined by another. We have called him Bob!

There are a few Norwegian and Russian fishing vessels in this area, we have made a note of there numbers. Maybe as north of bear island is quite sandy.

1st August 2019

The last couple of days have been sail, sleep, eat, repeat. The waves have been quite big, about 4m ones would suddenly come at you and it’s been a challenge on the helm at times. It certainly made the boat roll around for a few days, and once in my bunk you continue to roll. Sometimes on the Helm I think I am racing and build our speed up, until Katherine or Erik remind me that there is no rush, to get the boat level again and head somewhere towards Norway.

We have had about 4 sightings of whales but they have not shown themselves much, just blows. However I had a great sighting of a white beaked dolphin. He was beside the boat and was huge, big fin. Followed by a sighting of him swimming back towards the boat, just under the water, made a stunning sight.

We also had to make a diversion, to pass a seismic survey fleet, they had a 7 mile cable behind them.

The waves have calmed down, we have no hot water now as we are not running the engine, but being resourceful I use a little hot water out of my hot water bottle and have a quick flannel wash down once a day.

But life on board is much more relaxing than racing. Each on watch I helm, spot debris and marine life. Off watch I wash, sleep and eat very well. Everyone is in good spirits and we are looking forward to spotting land at the top of Norway. It’s so relaxing that we have not planned exactly where we will go, we have made good time so there is no need to rush straight to Tromso.

At about 9pm we had our first sighting of land, the top of Norway, so exciting. I was having a great time on the Helm, speeding along with waves tipping me from all directions. I was just thinking how cool it would be to see a whale between land and the boat when I spotted sone activity, then sure enough a full tail of a humpback was presented. Then if that wasn’t enough we were being approached from our port side by 2 more humpbacks and a pod of white beaked dolphins. All swimming together we got a great display. Tried to take a few photos, but they were fast and to see with your own eyes is more important.

This is such an adventure, Living the dream, sailing along, not knowing exactly where we are going to anchor or moor up for the next week, wherever it takes us. And seeing lots of marine mammals.

Finished reading a book on board, biography of Dewey Soper an Arctic explorer. His motto was ‘better to be worn out than rust out’….I like that at lot.

Going to get a couple of hours sleep as I want to see as much as possible as we get nearer to Norway, and I had a feeling that we would see more marine life. Mid Barent Sea was quiet with life but challenging with rolling waves coming at you.

Goodnight.

2nd August 2019

We are moored up at Torsvaag. At 3am we came in. After a couple of hours lie down, I rose to the most wonderful sight of the top of Norway, simply stunning.

We are moored up in a sheltered harbour, full of fishing vessels of all sizes and a processing plant, we were amused that I was potentially going straight back to work.

We celebrated with a packet of crisps and hot toddy’s all round..it was a joyful moment that we had completed the Barent Sea, we were all so excited. We were also back in phone signal after 8 peaceful days, I sent a message to Guy.

Now to get a few hours sleep.

We got up late morning, and Eric made scrambled egg and smoked salmon which we ate on deck in the sunshine. We then scouted for showers. I messaged Richard Stansfield back home from Flatfish, to ask if he knew anyone from the fishing industry in this area. He got back with a name and I met the owner of the processing unit by the pontoon, they were salting cod. I asked them if they knew where there were some showers as I had been out at sea for 8 days. I was directed to the ladies changing rooms after a factory tour and had the most wonderful hot shower.

All clean, Lisa, Clodagh and I went for a walk to loosen our legs, we ran into a herd of reindeer and saw sea eagles. After a couple of hours we returned back to base and had fruit ciders and Arctic beer near the pontoon. The lady who runs the cafe sat and chattered with us for a while, she was lovely and we asked lots of questions about living in Torsvaag. Then in one on the apartments above the cafe four English guys who were on holiday fishing said they had spare cod and halibut which they caught the day before, did we want any. Of course, so Lisa and I took five fillets of cod and a huge fillet if halibut back to the boat and presented it to Eric. He was delighted, if not surprised, it saved us fishing anyway.

Spoke with Guy, first contact for 8 days which was lovely. All good and the horses are fine.

This is an amazing adventure.

3rd August 2019

After breakfast we set on on 2 beach cleans, the second was a lovely trek towards the north on tracks below the mountain. We collected a huge amount on the tide line, lots of fishing line, gear and rope. Lots of plastic of all kinds from bottles, bottle caps, bags and pipes.

It was hot work and we had a lot of rubbish to carry back. We took it to a skip near the fish processing factory. After a leisurely anti pasta lunch we set of to clear a small beach area where previously we watched an otter swim. Once cleaned it was time to try another swim in the freezing Barent Sea. Katherine and Erik had their wetsuits and snorkelling. I think I maybe swam for 1 minute, not quite as cold as Svalbard but still flipping freezing.

We are spending a further night here before going further south tomorrow. It’s been a great few days here and the weather fantastic.

4th August 2019

We left Torsvaag, and tried fishing about a mile away. One of the locals, Johnny Olsen sent a message to Narwhal saying how it was a delight to have us stay and what lovely crew they had. We were chuffed, they made us feel very welcome and were intrigued if not surprised by 4 women sailors and Eric.

Our fishing attempt off the boat was unsuccessful . I tried with line for cod and Lisa with a rod for halibut. I caught seaweed and Lisa nothing.

We went through the fjords in beautiful sunshine until lunchtime, then spotted a sandy beach. So we dropped anchor and had lunch. We then took the rib out to the island. We walked for 2 hours along the beach and a coastal path, doing a beach clean along the way. Another beautiful place.

Once we found somewhere to dispose the large items such as crates we headed back to the rib. Eric lit a fire with charcoal and wood we collected. We then toasted hotdogs and marshmallows, listened to some Canadian folk music and relaxed.

Once back on Narwhal I started counting up our beach clean results from the OSPAR sheets:

Plastics 748 pieces

Rubber 3

Metal 15

Cloth 2

Wood 5

Glass 2

Sanitary 1

Further analysis:

Fishing gear 288 pieces

Strapping bands 38

Medium size plastic pieces >2.5cm <50cm 109 pieces

Drinks and caps 63

Further analysis will be put into the spreadsheets and pie charts of Katherines and she will send to me. It’s been really interesting.

7th – 10th August 2019

The fjords were beautiful but anchoring was not easy due to the winds picking up. We therefore came into Tromso a day earlier on the 6th August.

I had not felt that well during the day, a mixture I think of eating too much then a rolling boat! I therefore did not eat all day, until evening.

On the morning of the 7th we climbed 480m up a mountain behind the boat, the views were outstanding and great to have a good leg stretch. In the afternoon Lisa and I went into the city.

On the 8th and 9th I have a agenda put together by the Norwegian Seafood Council, which is very kind of them. We also visited the Nofima Aquaculture Research Centre which was very interesting. The hospitality in Norway is out standing.

So, I leave Yacht Narwhal tomorrow, this is my last night in her. Thank you so much to Eric and Katherine, they are amazing. And to my crew mates Lisa and Claudagh, we have had such fun. It really was a trip of a lifetime.


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