Looking for Polar Bears, Part IV
July 6, 2009
74 34 N 14 54 E - Norwegian Sea
7:45 AM: It is cold and grey, with a wind NE at 20kn. The occasional wave hits us, rolls over the deck and splashes up against the pilot house windows. Onora shutters and gallops on.
Sixty five miles east of us lies Bjornoya, an lonely island between the top of Norway and Svalbard. At Bjornoya Norway maintains a weather station. Five hundred miles west of us is Greenland. Fifteen hundred miles north lies the pole.
The winds shifted to come out of the north when John and Gail Ward arrived to meet us in Tromso on the first. We decided to work our way up the sheltered waters of the coast hoping for shift to the south for a comfortable northern trip. We decided on the fourth to move to a northerly 'jumping off' anchorage and to wait for one more day. Our winds were light in route and so we gave up waiting and left to face the cold grey ocean head on.
The wind was light for the first 24 hours as we motored into the rough seas which banged and rolled over the nose of Onora. Gradually the wind came around a bit to give us a marginal sailing angle. We have been sailing close hauled, healed at 30 degrees, for the past day. The seas are still rough so we pitch and roll a bit but it is better than the motor. Our sailing direction takes us west of Svalbard so at some time we will have to head back to the east. We are counting on the winds going down so we can comfortably motor east for the last 50 or so miles.
Our friends have long wanted to make a passage with us and their dream is being realized. They are in good spirits and weathering the adventure.
8:30 AM: I have just finished our 8:00 AM radio contact with Windhorse and Leonore. Steve and Linda are in Longyearbyen and Lenore is several hours ahead of us and will arrive in Svalbard tomorrow. So will we. We have just 135 miles to go.
July 7, 2009
77 00 N 15 34 E
We crept into Hornsund at the bottom of Svalbard this morning and, at 8:00 am dropped anchor in front of a Polish Research Station after three days at sea. After shifting the bunks and reverting from 'offshore rigging' we took badly needed showers. After lunch we visited the base and met the base manager Sebastian. We inquired about a hike to the glacier. He told us we must be armed for bears and to take care to avoid diving arctic terns protecting their nests. The hike took us over shale and a moraine to a river of ice pushing earth and ice into the next bay, demonstrating the power of nature.
July 9, 2009
78 08N 14 15E - Isfjorden
On the third attempt our anchor grabbed in front of Bellsund's Renardbreen Glacier in gusting sleet. Dayglow orange survival suits have replaced our foul weather gear. Yesterday John and I donned ours and took the dinghy into shore to explore and practice shooting our polar bear rifle.
As we drew neared three mounds turned out to be three stout wooden whale boats turned upside down but looking ready to launch. The solid construction and deep freeze of the arctic has left them in surprisingly good shape.
We are now quietly sailing downwind with both head sails poled out bound for Longyearbyen, the capital of Svalbard. We are obliged to check in with the Governor's office which granted us a visiting permit several months ago. The sky remains overcast but the fog and low clouds have risen. From here the coast is black mountains and white snow. A cruise ship, the Amadea, just passed with a hand full on deck.