Sailing to Svalbard Expedition Report

Sailing adventure in the arctic

On the 6th June, Narwhal said goodbye to the mainland and headed out across the Barent’s Sea. Over 400 miles of arctic ocean spread out in front of her bows as she set sail, bound for Svalbard and adventure.

Our last glimpse of mainland Norway

Our last glimpse of mainland Norway

Bjørnøya, a small island, mostly inhabited by birds at around the halfway point in the crossing

Bjørnøya, a small island, mostly inhabited by birds at around the halfway point in the crossing

Our first view of Svalbard

Our first view of Svalbard

Iceberg, dead ahead!

Cheesy, but that is just what we were greeted by as we closed in with the South Cape of Spitzbergen. The ice chart that we had downloaded on route showed that there was likely to be some ice in this area, drifting from the east of the island with the current. This block of ice that must have been about the size and weight of Narwhal was pretty humbling and made me glad that in the 24hr daylight we wouldn’t have to worry about looking for them in the dark.

Iceberg of the souther point of Svalbard

Iceberg of the souther point of Svalbard

Arctic ocean wildlife

Being out of sight of land, with nothing but ocean stretching in either direction strips away the distractions of the everyday world and makes your focus on those things around you that much more acutely. Initially the vast expanse appears featureless and devoid of wildlife but as we took the time to look, we found that we were surrounded by wildlife. One of my favourite sea birds, the fulmar, a relation of the albatross were our constant companions, demonstrating their skill on the wing by flying in close to the rigging, so close it often felt as though we could reach out and touch them. Our approach to land was heralded by puffins, guillemots, with arctic and long tailed skuas joining the flock. Little auks only inhabit the far north and were one of the birds that I was really hoping to see during this expedition. I didn’t have to wait long as first one, then two, then numerous small flocks of these little chick-sized sea birds came along side Narwhal.

There was wildlife beneath our keel too. From the harbour porpoise that we spotted within the first ten minutes of leaving the marina to the pod of beluga whales who greeted our arrival in Hornsund we saw a total of six species including; sperm whale, humpback whale, Atlantic white beaked dolphin and sei whale,

Sperm whale diving

Sperm whale diving

Sei whale close to Hornsund, Svalbard

Sei whale close to Hornsund, Svalbard

Beluga whale

Beluga whale

Arriving in Svalbard by sail

After making landfall we continued up the coast to the most southerly of the fjords, Hornsund. Entering the fjord, surrounded entirely by snow capped mountains and glaciers was an unreal experience. One that is hard to describe but can be felt in the pit of your stomach. It felt extra special to have arrived in this wilderness under our own initiative, with no other humans beings in sight it really felt as if it was our wilderness. We dropped anchor and despite hearing my bed summoning me for the first sleep of more than 3hrs in four days, I couldn’t resist spending just a little longer on deck to take in the scenery.

Expedition yacht Narwhal in Hornsund, Svalbard

Expedition yacht Narwhal in Hornsund, Svalbard

First steps ashore in Svalbard

After a well needed night of rest it was time to set foot our first footsteps on Svalbard. Just before we got into the rib we had an extra bonus surprise as a pod of beluga whales gave us a quick fly by. I was getting the feeling that I was going to absolutely blooming love Svalbard!

Our first steps ashore were in Gashamna, leaving our footprints in the snow as we explored the old Russian research station. It was here that scientists took the measurements to prove that the earth is not a perfect sphere, but is slightly pressed down at the poles. As I walked amongst the remains of the building I imagined what life must have been like in those early days of exploration. As well as imagining myself as one of the early explorers of course! Finding an old Russian vodka bottle with label still attached might have been a bit of a clue as to how these pioneers managed the cold.

First footsteps in the snow on Svalbard

First footsteps in the snow on Svalbard

Eric getting to grips with polar bear protection

Eric getting to grips with polar bear protection

The old research station - imagine living here for a season?

The old research station - imagine living here for a season?

Kayaking with icebergs

With such a stunning location and some nice settled weather conditions meant I couldn’t resist getting out in my kayak to fulfil a dream of kayaking with icebergs. The closeness to the water that being in the kayak brings always makes me feel so connected to the environment, and what an environment to feel connected to :) Being so close to the ice was an amazing experience. Although the ice pieces were only quite small it was humbling to feel their solidity nudging against them with my kayak.

Kayaking in Svalbard wonderland!

Kayaking in Svalbard wonderland!

The tip of the iceberg - they were a bit bigger than they looked when you took a peek under the water

The tip of the iceberg - they were a bit bigger than they looked when you took a peek under the water

Kayaking amongst the icebergs in Svalbard

Kayaking amongst the icebergs in Svalbard

The whole Svalbard adventure so far has been to massive to fit into one blog post, I’ll try my best to get the second instalment out to you shortly. If you can’t wait, you can keep up with the adventure on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.