Looking for Polar Bears, Part V
July 15, 2009
78 57 N 12 04 E Kongsfjorden
We are anchored with a line to shore in a small bay with two cabins amid ruins of a 1920's marble quarry that closed when the marble was found to shatter after being installed in London homes. Our friends, John and Gail Ward, caught an early flight out of Longyearbyen on Sunday. We stayed another day to provision,do some repairs, laundry, have a meal out and to make the visit to the governor's office to collect our permit. Stein was away on a search and rescue for most of the day but we finally got our document and returned to Onora. At eight pm the wind which had been blowing us against the dock died making it easy to leave. We sailed to the sea end of the fjord and dropped our anchor in front of a glacier gleaming in the midnight sun.
Leonore joined us the next day and we left together for the north. The winds against us were much lighter than forecast. We decided to carry on to this anchorage across the Fjoird from Ny Alesund, a Norwegion research base.
July 17, 2009
79 16.5 N 11 31 E Lilliehookfjorden
We anchored in this bay off of the fjord with a two mile wide glacier at its head. Ashore is the ruins of a WWII German weather station. This is also the place Steve and Linda Dashew saw a bear about two weeks ago. No bear for us but a nice walk.
I am reading a book, "The Year Long Day", an account of a trapper's year here thirty years ago before polar bears were protected. The first six bears he killed came looking for him in the polar night. In each case he could have been the loser. I have decided that we would be better off seeing no bear than one with us on shore.
July 20, 2009
79 33.5 N 11 01.5 E Magdelenefjorden
We saw our bear, a reward for one of the toughest short passages. We left Lillehook on the 18th and had a nice sail out of the fjord, then we hit the sea and had to turn north into 25 knots of wind and rough seas. We ploughed into it, making less than three knots for most of the next eleven hours. Our shaft bolts broke mid way causing us to head off and sail for thirty minutes while I installed new ones. The slamming into the waves stirred up sediment in our fuel tanks plugging up our filters which shut down our engine. We headed off again for thirty minutes while that was dealt with. We finally arrived in this beautiful glacier headed fjord in the golden sun of midnight.
As tired as we were we marveled at the beauty of this place with jagged snow streaked black mountains and blue ice floating past us.
We woke at 9:30 yesterday and got to work on a couple of projects. We are the third boat here with Leonore and a wooden French expedition boat. In mid morning we noticed the French crew up in the rigging looking at something behind the sand spit where we could not see. David and Tony and their wives were on shore exploring the whaler's graveyard in front of us. As we watched the French launch a zodiac and race to the beach where David was. The Leonore crew shot back into their dinghy and came over to tell us a polar bear was swiming to the other side of the beach. Two minutes later the bear came over the top of the spit and across the shore just vacated shore.
The governor has two rangers here. We invited them over for wine last night. They are here for six weeks to keep an eye on visitors to this part of the island. There is a large whaler's grave yard dating back to the 16th century which has been scoured for tourist souvenirs for two hundred years. One teaches hunting and fishing at a technical school and the other trains K-9 dogs for the police but for six weeks they live in the small cabin just behind us.
July 24, 2009
78 55 N 11 55 E Ny Alesund
We sailed up to Virgohamna (79 43 N 10 55 E) on the 21st. On shore were the ruins of an old whaling operation and more interesting, the ruins of the hydrogen dirigible launching area for two failed polar attempts in the early 1900's. The remains of foundations, wood frames, hydrogen works and raw materials, remain where left one hundred years ago.
The next day we sailed to Sallyhamna (79 49 N 11 36.9 E) with Leonore. We had agreed that this would be our jumping off point for our sail to the furthest north and our turn around point. We left under cloudy skies with light winds. After we cleared the top of Spizbergen, the last land between us and the pole, the wind picked up to the low 20's. We raced ahead at 9 knots. At 11:45 we crossed 80 degrees north and turned on our radar to look for the ice pack but it was not in sight. With the wind continuing to build and small ice 'growlers' appearing more frequently we did the prudent thing and turn around to head south. The wind was favorable for a southern journey and with our dwindling fuel supply it was an opportunity we had to use.
We arrived here last evening at 10:00 and dropped the anchor between the two piers that front this Norwegian scientific base. We were able to fill our fuel tanks this morning and tour this frontier 'town'. Just about everything is closed to us strangers. Coal and polar expeditions preceded science here. Mining equipment and dirigible towers stand along side laboratories but much of the same yellow and red wood framed housing as used by earlier residents serves today's inhabitants.
A boat with a family of four pulled up to Onora this morning. They introduced themselves as local residents that live in the next fjord in the house they built twenty years ago. They said they were trappers and collect eider down from birds nests and send it to Iceland for processing. With the economic meltdown there is no market for this but they were still collecting and counting on the market to return.
Our next goal is to return safely to Tromso. It lies five hundred miles south and we have to be there no later than the third of August. We are looking for our weather window.