July/August 13

Around Spitsbergen on the Noorderlicht, 28 July - 12 August 2013
We left for Longyearbyen feeling excited and full of anticipation. Were we going to see polar bears? Fin whales? Or perhaps even a rare sighting of a blue whale? And what would sailing on the Noorderlicht be like?
Flying over Svalbard was already a treat, with magnificent pointed peaks showing through the clouds. After our first encounter with a polar bear (stuffed!) at the airport, we caught our first glimpse of the Noorderlicht, moored in front of a huge 2,000 passenger cruise ship. It only emphasized how privileged we were to experience Spitsbergen from a sailing ship with a small group of other people appreciating its nature and wildlife. For the next two weeks, we would be depending on the elements and Mother Nature.
We headed south, sailing around Spitsbergen anti-clockwise. The British birdwatchers were immediately in their element, as from day one the number of birds we saw was spectacular. During the trip, we must have seen tens of thousands of kittiwakes, 60,000 pairs of brunnich's guillemots on one cliff, thousands of blue phased fulmars, barnacle geese, common eiders, arctic and great skuas, sabine's gulls in their summer dress, little auks, purple sandpipers, snow buntings, some puffins, nesting arctic terns and the occasional ringed plover. We also spotted 13 ivory gulls, had 2 sightings of king eiders and saw one pair of long tailed skuas which made the bird watchers very happy.
On the second night the bell rang at 3 in the morning. A lot of sleepy people arrived on deck. White spots in the distance and water spouts. About 15 belugas were swimming under a golden sky. And these were not the only whales we saw during the trip. A minke whale toyed with us swimming from one side of the boat to the other, repeatedly catching us out on the wrong side of the boat. It came to the side of the boat, looked at us and swam graciously along the entire length of the ship. Humpback whales provided a spectacular display by fluking their unique white under tails. They too were having fun. A group of fin whales came to join the humpbacks' show and then.... our biggest surprise of the day, the biggest animal on earth, a blue whale, surfaced close by and stayed with us for a little while. Its blue freckled skin could clearly be seen through our binoculars. This made the cetacean people very happy.
After a long day and night of sailing we entered bear territory. A mother and her cub were leisurely strolling halfway up the mountain side. Later that day, another 4 bears were spotted in the distance. But then... a little further north we spotted a bear in the water. A string of kelp elegantly draped over its head, it swam within 10 meters of the ship and enabled at least one of us to shoot an image suitable for a Christmas card. At the end of the trip the bear count was 13. This made even the bird people very happy.
Almost every day, we did a landing with the zodiac to go on short or longer walks. We walked over the tundra, seeing many beautiful mosses, mushrooms and flowers. The reindeer liked these too. They did not seem to mind us walking through their dinner at all. The Arctic foxes were a bit more shy and had to be approached very carefully. We stood very still and on one occasion a very curious fox visited every member of the party. Some hikes took us through rocky valleys, making us all look very small in a majestic landscape. The funniest landing was a visit to a group of walrus. We approached them in a long line, covering the last meters in combat mode. At about 30 meters ‘distance, we watched them, took pictures and after about half an hour we all stood up and walked away. The walrus could not give a monkeys, which made the guide very happy.
Over the centuries many people tried to make a living from Svalbard's rich resources. The whaling and walrus hunting enterprises were very successful for man, but nearly wiped out the bowhead and blue whale and diminished the other species to only a fraction of their original population size. Mining operations for marble, iron and gypsum were completely unsuccessful. The remains of these operations are scattered all over the coast, adding human drama to the landscape. The only mining enterprise that has been carried out with some success is for coal. One day we visited Barentsburg, a Russian mining settlement. It was like being in a time warp from Soviet times gone by. It had a sad beauty about it, which made some photographers very happy.
The guide often read from a historical book which he carried in his backpack. Short passages about the history of Svalbard whilst in the field made the past more alive to us urbanites. Many stories involved hunting and the polar bear stories always engendered much interest. A bear encounter is a real risk during any landing. This is why the group always had to stay close together. The guide had a gleaming riffle and was always the first to land and the last to leave. We were due a landing at Smeerenburg, but the mist descended, the wind got up, the landing was cancelled and the bear turned up. This made us all very happy.
Life on board was very happy and the four nationalities mixed well. We all hoisted the sails and were involved in some of the daily running of the ship. The chef worked daily miracles from a tiny galley, the bar was well stocked at the beginning and the crew was second to none. We all had a great voyage and have memories that will live with us for ever more.
Nathalie Steins & John van der Dol
 

29 july13 aufregende Seemeilen mit Blubber und Bergziegen

981 Seemeilen bei strahlendem Sonnenschein, Regen, Sturm - es war ein aufregendes Programm, auf das unsere Gruppe zurückblicken kann. Kapitän Gert und seine Crew haben uns 15 Tage lang sicher zu den Highlights von Spitzbergen geführt.

Nicht hindern konnten uns daran Lästigkeiten wie verschwundenes Gepäck von vier Reisenden, bei dem die Noorderlicht-Crew ihre Flexibilität fabelhaft unter Beweis stellte: Das Schiff kehrte einfach noch einmal in den Hafen zurück, bevor es endgültig an die Umrundung von Spitzbergen gehen konnte.

Gert, Jeroen, Daniel und Durk wiesen uns in den ersten Tagen souverän in die Anforderungen an die Schiffspassagiere ein: In erster Linie sollten wir mal den Tisch abräumen, später kamen auch anspruchsvollere Aufgaben wie die Hilfe beim Segelsetzen und -einholen dazu.

Wir erfuhren viel über die Geschichte von Spitzbergen, auch dank unseres Mitreisenden Hanspeter Bärtschi, der stets hervorragend über die Hintergründe des Bergbaus und anderer historischer industrieller Aktivitäten auf den Inseln Spitzbergens informiert war.

Besonders gut gewählt hatte der Organisator unserer Tour, Heiner Zumbrunn, den ersten Guide Henryk Wolski aus Sloppca in Polen. Der verfügt über eine langjährige Erfahrung als Expeditionsleiter in Spitzbergen und anderen arktischen Gebieten. Er verstand es, allen Ansprüchen gerecht zu werden und besonders unsere hochmotivierten "Bergziegen" in ihrem Bewegungsdrang rechtzeitig auf den nächsten Berg zu scheuchen, bevor Unruhe ausbrechen konnte. In mehreren Vorträgen gab er seine Erfahrungen und Kenntnisse gern weiter, zum Beispiel über die Blubber-Schicht der Wale, die Smutje Durk uns mit seiner hervorragenden Küche wohl auch anfüttern wollte. Riita Turpeinen aus Kiuruvesi in Finnland war als zweite Guide dabei. Sie konnte als Botanikerin bei jeder Frage nach unscheinbaren Blümchen weiterhelfen, wusste aber auch zuverlässig jeden Vogel zu benennen, den wir zum Beispiel am Alkefjellet sahen.

Gegen den Uhrzeigersinn umfuhren wir Spitzbergen und durften Highlights sehen, die andere Gruppen auf grossen Schiffen nicht anlaufen dürfen. So standen wir in Gråhuken an der Hütte, in der Christiane Ritter einen Winter verbracht hatte, liefen in den Liefdefjord, sahen den Monacobreen und verkosteten einen Whisky an der Texas-Bar. Auch Virgohamna, den historischen Startpunkt zu (gescheiterten) Eroberungen des Nordpols per Ballon und Luftschiff, und die alte Marmor-Abbaustätte in Ny London, liefen wir an. Kapitän Gert führte uns an Vogelfelsen heran, an kalbende Gletscher und an Eisbären, wobei er stets respektvollen Abstand bewahrte.

Mehrfach sahen wir Eisbären, ausserdem suchten neugierige Rentiere unsere Nähe und ein Polarfuchs sprang auf der Suche nach Nahrung durch unsere Reihen.
Finnwale kamen nah an die Noorderlicht heran, während Beluga-Wale eher Abstand hielten. Walrosse inspirierten einige unserer Mitreisenden zu faulem Herumliegen im Netz neben dem Bugspriet, wo sie sich auch aufhielten, als wir leider nach 15 glücklichen Tagen nach Longyearbyen zurückkehren mussten.
 

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