Svalbard sailing expedition report

Arctic sailing adventure

Welcome to part two of the story of our arctic sailing expedition in Svalbard. This instalment brings us face to face with glaciers, icebergs and some of the most magical whale encounters. The end of part one saw Narwhal in Hornsund in the far south of Svalbard, from here we headed further north still. A long day’s passage saw us making the jump up the coast to the next fjord, Bellsund.

The route along the west coast of Spitzbergen is dramatic, with towering snow capped mountains, enormous expanses of glacier ice sweeping down to the ocean and not another boat in sight.

Sailing past glaciers on the west coast of Spitzbergen

Sailing past glaciers on the west coast of Spitzbergen

Rock, ice and snow - our constant companions on our sailing adventure

Rock, ice and snow - our constant companions on our sailing adventure

Bellsund

After a long day’s sail, (it was quarter to midnight when we arrived, so I guess that still counts as a day sail) we were keen to find somewhere sheltered to drop anchor and get a bit of rest. As is often the case, when you aren’t looking for it, you discover a real gem. The anchorage in Varsolbukta wasn’t mentioned in our guide books, but it quite literally contained a gold mine. Despite keeping my eyes peeled, I didn’t find any golden nuggets glinting on the floor.

One of the carts from the disused gold mine

One of the carts from the disused gold mine

The entrance to the gold mine

The entrance to the gold mine

It was here that we met the inhabitants of the small hut in Varsolbukta, a dedicated team of wildlife film makers who were camped out there for a month tasked with capturing Svalbard’s wonderful wildlife on film.

Our own film maker, Danny, hard at work capturing just the right angle

Our own film maker, Danny, hard at work capturing just the right angle

Sailing in Isfjord - Svalbard

The next day’s sailing saw us rounding the radio station at Kapp Linne and entering Isfjord, the largets fjord on Svalbard and also home to Svalbard’s centres of habitation, Barentsberg pop ~ 400 and Longyearbyen pop ~1500.

Barentsberg, a Russian mining town with it’s Soviet style of architecture

Barentsberg, a Russian mining town with it’s Soviet style of architecture

After a quick pit stop in Longyearbyen, a shower and a refill of my favourite Norwegian raisin and cardamon buns we were off again, this time headed to Templefjord (a branch of Isfjord) name for the awe inspiring mountain formation that heralds it’s entrance.

Templet or Temple mountain - truly awe inspiring

Templet or Temple mountain - truly awe inspiring

We spent two nights tucked into the anchorage in Bjonahamna while the winds raged past the end of the fjord. Once they moderated we were able to get put and explore the cabins on the beach as well as the glacier at the head of the fjord but my most memorable experience of Templefjord was the humpbacked whale that we saw there.

The anchorage at Bjonhamna, Templefjord

The anchorage at Bjonhamna, Templefjord

The glacier front, this is close to where we saw the humpback whale

The glacier front, this is close to where we saw the humpback whale

Humpback whale coming over to check us out

Humpback whale coming over to check us out

Watching whales by sail

This wonderful sighting with the humpback whale was a sign of things to come. We headed up in to Billefjord and along the glacier front there we had an amazing encounter with a large pod of beluga whales. As we drifted silently, they continued to swim along the ice edge. I was able to use my hydrophone to capture their under water calls. It added to the intensity of the experience to be able to hear the underwater vocalisations from the whales. I hope this captures some of the wonder of the experience for you to share:

Beluga whale song