Today we embark our expedition ship, the Akademik Sergey Vavilov in Longyearbyen and as we throw the lines, we sail out of Adventfjorden and into Isfjorden during the early evening. With almost 24 hours of daylight at this time of the year, we enjoy the views from the outer decks of the ship as we depart. We meet our fellow passengers and the expedition team during an introductory briefing and enjoy a welcome dinner as we set sail.
Beluga whales are frequently seen as they transit the narrow sound near Bourbonhamna. It is estimated there are approximately five to ten thousand belugas in the Svalbard population. The beluga has no dorsal fin; a diagnostic feature of whale species that live in the high Arctic such as the narwhal and bowhead. It has been postulated that the beluga’s lack of dorsal fin is an adaptation to living in waters that are frequently covered by ice. On our shore excursion, an old hunting cabin and other artifacts are points of interest during our scenic hike to Ingebrigstenbukta. However, it is the huge piles of beluga whalebones that catch everybody’s attention. The bones and all artifacts are protected by the Svalbard Government. While wandering on shore we hope to catch a glimpse of the dozens of reindeer that inhabit the area.
Lilliehook Glacier, at the head of the northwestern arm of Krossfjorden is an incredible sight. The glacier face stretches almost four miles (7 km) and has a height of around 260 feet (80 m). Viewed from the ship or on a Zodiac cruise you come to appreciate the enormous scale of our surroundings. The shores of Krossfjorden are home to numerous bird colonies and a variety of different species. We anchor off one small harbor and cruise in the Zodiacs along the bird cliffs near the 14th of July Glacier. As we cruise the dark waters, we are always on the lookout for bearded and ringed seals, both species known to frequent this fjord.
No trip along the north coast of Spitsbergen would be complete without a visit to Monacobreen (Monaco Glacier). A wide glacier face at the head of the fjord makes for spectacular kayaking and Zodiac cruising. The coastal plain near the mouth of Liefdefjorden offers superb hiking and is often a great place to spot polar bears that come here to hunt for ringed seals or feed on bird's eggs.
At 81° north latitude, Phippsoya is just 540 nautical miles from the North Pole. The high ice classification of our ship (Class 1A) allows us to approach the edge of the pack ice in safety and comfort. Because of its proximity to the permanent Arctic ice pack, Phippsoya offers the potential for great polar bear viewings. In recent seasons we have enjoyed excellent encounters with polar bears in this vicinity. Be sure to get up to the ship’s bridge and take a picture of the GPS showing your latitude or, better yet, take your own handheld GPS with you and mark in the waypoint as we are so close to the North Pole!
From the ice edge we enter the main channel separating Svalbard’s two main islands. In Hinlopen Strait the bird cliffs at Alkefjellet are home to more than a hundred thousand breeding Brunnich’s guillemots, as well as thousands of kittiwakes and black guillemots. It is a spectacular site and a challenging one for our Zodiacs as the tidal currents roar through Hinlopen Strait. Nearby Murchison Fjord is a wonderful place to kayak or Zodiac cruise between the islands. There are some excellent hiking routes here, affording us breathtaking views.
As your Zodiac approaches the shore of Fuglesangenoya, it becomes apparent there are thousands of birds nesting on this island. Home to a large dovekie colony, the formation of the island allows for excellent viewing without impacting upon the perimeter of the colony. Just a few miles from Fuglesangen is the old whaling station of Smeerenburg, literally translated as ‘Blubber Town’. As we hike the shoreline of the old station, we learn about the importance of whaling in the discovery and exploration of the Svalbard archipelago. The blubber ovens stand as a reminder to this harsh industry in an equally harsh environment.
The sight and sound of a walrus haul-out spells Arctic like nothing else can. We visit the walrus colony on Prince Charles Island and hope to see these odd-looking animals ashore. Approaching from downwind can often confirm that walrus are ashore - the smell of a walrus haul-out is quite 'unique'! Tonight we celebrate our journey with a special dinner attended by the ship’s captain. It's a great time to reflect on a wonderful voyage in this wild and remote place.
Arriving back into Longyearbyen this morning, we disembark after breakfast and say farewell to our expedition team and fellow passengers. A transfer into town is provided for those choosing to stay a few days. If you are departing today, we have a few hours this morning to explore the town, before transferring to the airport for your onward flight to Tromso or Oslo.
Note: Polar exploration can be unpredictable. Specific sites visited will depend on prevailing weather and ice conditions at the time of sailing. The above itinerary should be read as a ‘guide only’ and may change. The ship’s captain in conjunction with the expedition leader continually review the sailing plan throughout the voyage, making adjustments to the itinerary along the way to take advantage of optimal weather and ice conditions or to maximize our encounters with wildlife. Decades of experience spent exploring these waterways mean we have a large number of outstanding landing sites and Zodiac cruising locations to consider, even when the weather conditions may not be ideal. A flexible approach is something we encourage you to bring to the ship.
* Itinerary may be subject to change