September/October 12

Crossing Spitsbergen – Norwegen, Oktober 2012

Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen, 22. Oktober, 14:30.

Bei dauerhaftem Schneefall haben Gert, Sonja, Bram, Ewout, zwei weitere helfende Hände aus Holland und ich uns auf den Weg gemacht, die Noorderlicht nach Norwegen zu segeln. Als wir nach einigen Stunden den Isfjord verlassen haben, kommt uns der nahezu konstant aus Nord-Nordost wehende Wind sehr gelegen. Somit heißt es für unsere 2er Ruderwachen: Kurs 170° ...175° ...180° . Bei un-unterbrochenen 6 bis 7 Bft sind wir mit der alten Dame, immerhin nun schon 102, recht sportlich unterwegs. Hochseesegeln vom Feinsten. Schnell. Lautlos. Abgesehen vom Knarzen, Knarren und Vibrieren des Stahls, mit dem uns die Noorderlicht gelegentlich zeigt, wieviel Leben noch in ihr steckt... Zeitweise sind wir mit beachtlichen 11 Knoten durch Wellentäler und über Wellenberge gerauscht. Täler und Berge, Schaumkronen und Gischt. Unzählige Liter eiskaltes Wasser sind über das Deck geflossen, ...und einmal auch über den Kartentisch. Ab und zu tanzen Nordlichter am Himmel, und auch Schneeschauer und Hagel bringen Abwechslung in unseren Wachrythmus: 3 Stunden am Ruder, 6 Stunden Ruhe...

Norwegische Küste, 25. Oktober, ca. 15:00. Land in Sicht! Trotz nunmehr 8 Bft, tiefgrauem Himmel und zeitweise dichtem Schneetreiben steigt bei allen an Bord die Freude, in einigen Stunden Tromsø zu erreichen. Schummerlicht, Dunkelheit, weiter zunehmender Schneefall, harte Böen. Als sich plötzlich die Schot vom Innenklüver mit einem lauten Knall zerlegt, wird es Zeit, die Segel einzuholen...

Tromsø, 26. Oktober, 01:30. Geschafft! Nach genau 83 Stunden und zurückgelegten 618 Seemeilen sind wir am Ziel. Ein neuer Rekord...? Jedenfalls Grund genug zu feiern, dass wir heile angekommen sind. Dann schlafen, essen, schlafen, essen, Zollformalitäten erledigen, Polarmuseum besichtigen, durch die Stadt ziehen... Am 28. Oktober geht Bram vormittags von Bord, um nach Hause zu reisen. So fahren wir zu fünft weiter südwärts nach Gibostad – durch die herrlich verschneite Küstenlandschaft...

Harstad, 29. Oktober, 16:35. Nach den heutigen siebeneinhalb Stunden Fahrt bei Sonnen-schein und blauem Himmel beenden wir hier vorerst die Tour. In den folgenden Tagen wird das Schiff auf der Werft durchgecheckt, bevor es dann im November mit den Lofoten-Touren weitergeht...

Mit einem herzlichen Dank an die Besatzung,
Axel Barchfeld

South Spitsbergan 21st September - 28th September 2012

In today's competitive travel market many companies offer the 'trip of a lifetime' or 'experiences that will give you that real taste of adventure'. Sadly a lot of these promises turn out to be a rather safe and somewhat sanitised version of the adventure that many expect. This trip was a refreshing exception to that rule.

The first sight of Noorderlicht sparks the traveller’s imagination with visions of a bygone era and boarding is almost like stepping through a door in time. Coiled ropes, canvas sails, weathered pulleys and the huge spoked wheel, all paint a picture of the journey to come. This clearly is a vessel which has been out there, heeled over and running before the wind on some of the world’s most hostile oceans.

With gear stowed, we met the crew. Ted the owner and Captain, a man who looks as if he too has been forged from the very fabric of the vessel. An ironic metaphor as Ted and his business partner actually forged the Noorderlicht themselves from the forgotten remains of a Baltic light vessel and turned her from a dream into reality.

The other crew members were First mate, Bram, Linda the Second mate and Sonja the Cook, all seemed to be a team who had worked together for years and reinforced the feeling that a good trip was in the offing. The final member of the team was Robin Buzza, the English guide and James Stewart look-a-like. Robin's credentials were impressive and he had an easy but disciplined manner that gave everyone in the party a reassuring feeling of confidence.

We set off, leaving the berth at Longyearbyen and slipped into the calm but cold Arctic twilight towards our first overnight mooring in Trygghamna Fjord. Dinner was served on arrival and we enjoyed the first of Sonja’s many gastronomic treats. Her food was outstanding, tasty soups, imaginative salads, superbly cooked and flavoursome meats. Over the next few days the smell of fresh baked bread and cinnamon would often reach across the water as we travelled back from a landing to provide a warm welcome back on board.

On the first morning our initial walk was a short excursion along the side of the Fjord. The cloud and mist were down and the thought of a Polar bear or two or three lurking nearby was at the forefront of everyone’s thoughts. Ice cracked under foot as we made our way at a gentle pace up towards the lip of our first glacier. Here we also had the first stark reminder of the issues of global warming which has seen these once mighty sheets of ancient ice whittled back into the valleys, leaving only shattered tracks of blackened moraine to signpost their demise.

With snow flurries in the air we headed south for Recherche Glacier where we spotted the first two of our total bag of three Polar bears. This one was at a distance but a few moments later, amid the sprawling scenery, we almost fell over the second bear sunning himself on an ice flow. With the bear just 150 metres away Robin told us a hungry male bear could reach us in less than twenty seconds so he quickly organised our safe retreat to the beach and called in Bram with the Zodiac. Fortunately the bear decided to move away in the opposite direction but there are no second chances and we all felt quite happy to be skimming across the glass like water, back to Noorderlicht and one of Sonja’s creamy hot chocolates.

That night the skies cleared and we gathered expectantly on deck around midnight. Satellites sped silently across the inky skies as thin wisps of light appeared near the horizon. Anxiously we held our breath as the Northern lights first appeared then faded. A few moments later the display started to build and soon curtains of green light shimmered above the dark mountains. For all of us this was pure magic, for me it was something I had waited all my life to witness.

Over the next days we travelled to even more remote places and visited the most awe inspiring locations. Walking in places where 19th century whalers plied their bloody trade. Places where even today solitary hunters eek out a living in a white wilderness. Places where men of ages past starved to death, lost and forgotten, in the black night of bitter winters. Places where Explorer’s fragile hopes of riches, fame and glory were dashed on nature’s frozen anvil. Places were you can sit in the silence and stare at a landscape that has not changed in a million years. We stood on desolate beaches with only the biting wind for company, empty strands where hardly a soul has stood. We combed the tide line amid Siberian driftwood bleaching silently under blue skies. We heard the thunder of prehistoric glaciers and witnessed huge chunks of ice calving off and, driving huge waves down the fjords.

En route back to Longyearbyen we landed at Barentsberg, an isolated Russian mining settlement. A place that must be seen just to understand the impact man has had on his environment and the impact the Arctic can have on man.

John Louis Stevenson once said a journey is not about reaching your destination but it's about your experience in getting there. A journey on the Noorderlicht encapsulates that philosophy perfectly, a truly cathartic experience, top adventure at the top of the world!

Mike Bartlett +44 7738546005