More Ice & Some Walrus
We anchored briefly at Poolepynten where the first walrus colony was said to be. It was. On the beach, a dozen or so walrus (walri? walruses?) were lounging in a group, one lone fat dude lounging just down the slope, and another 3 or 4 frolicking in the shallow water just off the beach. We landed the dinghy on the south side of the point and slowly made our way towards the group, filming all the while. Unfortunately we left with a sour taste in our mouths when we were basically run off by a small cruise ship that disembarked two groups of 50 tourists on the same beach, with guides and radios and enough freaking rifles to start a small militia. That put a damper on things for me. I went back to the boat and the rest of the gang chilled with the driftwood and waited an hour or so for the ship to bug off. But it was sad to see that kind of thing in this kind of wilderness. I won’t dwell on it, it wasn’t the first nor will it be the last time we get this, but the GOOD parts of Svalbard so vastly outweigh these little bad parts, it’s almost not worth talking about. And anyway, we’re tourists too right, so I’m careful to complain too much.
Poolepynten offers no real protection, and while we wouldn’t have needed it anyway that night (it was, and continues to be flat calm), we weighed anchor and sailed over to Dahlbrebukta just across Forlandsundent, 10 miles or so under jib alone, moseying along in the midnight sun at 4 knots. There’s a massive glacier there too, with loads of ice in the bay, and yet again, with the super duper weather, we put together another midnight mission, launched the dinghy, and headed ashore.
Isbjorn was anchored in the middle of a huge crescent shaped bay fronted on the east by the glacier itself, which was going OFF - before we even got the anchor down, the ice dropping off the face and into the water was booming, and we could hear it from a few miles off echoing through the surrounding peaks. To the west was Forlandsundent, bordered by Prins Karl’s Forland, a long, mountainous island running N-S for 85 miles and paralleling mainland Spitsbergen. We landed the dinghy on the first rise between the boat and the glacier, an old moraine from where the glacier had previously advanced. A small sandy beach separated this first moraine from a much larger one another ¼-mile closer to the glacier. We traversed this and climbed the next hill, some 150-feet high (as measured from the drone), and were greeted by an amphitheater-like view of the glacier face and the small bay just in front of it. To our left, north, the sun hung high over the adjacent peaks, which ringed the bay on three sides, all snow-covered. Alex setup a time-lapse of the sun, which quite clearly shows the sideways motion it makes up here in the north, never setting, never getting low enough even this time of year to drop below the 1,500-foot mountain peaks.
We sat on that hill sipping beers and watching the glacier boom into the sea for several hours. I had a birds-eye view of the boat too, so could keep an eye on how the tides pushed and pulled the ice around the harbor. She was surrounded by tiny bits of brash ice, none bigger than a tennis ball, and with no wind to speak of, the boat was safe. When we got back though, the big flow of glacier ice had started working it’s way out towards the boat on the receding tide. We upped anchor and moved further out of the bay, but not before James donned his drysuit and climbed in the water to get some sea-level views of Isbjorn in the ice. Check out the shot below taken from the drone - you can see Isbjorn in the ice, James, in black, swimming behind her with his camera, Brian & Blue in the dinghy, Mia at the helm, me by the dodger in the yellow hat piloting the drone, and Brady and Kiril manning the ‘ice defender’ poles to push the biggest pieces out of the way. So far, it’s my favorite photo of this project, and perfectly illustrates how much is going on at any one given time with 8 of us aboard. Once re-anchored, we set ice watches, and the crew spent most of the rest of the night (we didn’t turn in until 0400) ‘defending’ the boat from the largest chunks of ice floating off the glacier. All the while the booming continued as the glacier kept dropping bergs into the sea.
The beautifully clear, calm weather continued. After negotiating Forlandsrevet, a shallow area at the north end of the sound (showing 11-feet on the chart), while playing poker for peanuts, M&M’s and raisins, we anchored off a huge beach on the island side of the sound and made a driftwood bonfire. There was lots of wood on the beach, old telephone poles washed ashore and ground by the ice, smaller bits and pieces, broken pallets and pieces of tree stumps. The wood was so dry that some of it was mostly air - a chunk that looked too heavy to carry weighed only a few pounds. We’d brought some egg cartons and am empty wine box to use as starter. The fire lit with just one match, and burned long through the night with our endless supply of driftwood. Late in the evening (or I suppose later that morning), long after Mia, Karin & I had gone to bed back on Isbjorn, Brian & Alex went swimming.
Before coming back to the boat for good, they piled on the fire a whole bunch of plastic we’d found strewn on the rocks, a sad reminder that we’re not entirely isolated from the rest of the world up here like it feels. A big fishing net. Several fishing floats. A couple large plastic packing containers. We burned it because there’s nowhere else to go with it. By next day, when we went back ashore in thick fog to dismantle what was left of our fire pit and remove any trace of us having been on the beach, the plastic was gone, burned into the atmosphere. It took 5 or 6 buckets of seawater until the stones stopped sizzling from the residual heat.
Another mission that started around midnight. By now, the time truly doesn’t matter. We sleep when we can, usually taking turns while we’re at sea and moving the boat, and we’re up when the weather is nice and there is fun to be had. And anyway, the light of the midnight sun, which is lower in the sky than in the afternoon, makes for much better photography, so it all works out.
The beach, which was all stones, some the size of small pebbles, others of tennis balls, stretched for 3 ½ miles along Richardlaguna, a small seawater lagoon nearly cutoff from the ocean, and backed by the biggest mountains on Prins Karls Forland, reaching 3,000-feet and more from sea level and covered in snow and glaciers. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and in the crisp, cold, northern air, you could see the mountains at the entrance to Isfjorden some 60 miles to the south, clear as day. A lone seal swam laps back and forth between us and Isbjorn, anchored about 300-yards off the beach to the northeast.
The Delos crew filmed the second round of interviews with all of us that night on the beach, kind of for the same reason I’m writing this blog now - to catch up and talk about stuff we’d already done before we forget. The days long ago started running together, as do our memories of some of them, particularly when the rum comes out, as it did on the beach that night.
Until next time, HOLD FAST!