21.08.2013: Russebukta

Russebukta

Pos. 77° 12' N - 021° 12' E

We have sailed around Svalbard, have set out drifting buoys at the border of the pack ice, have seen many whales, walruses and polar bears and thousands of sea birds – following many exciting experiences we are heading back south! We leave the high mountains on the island group behind us and now have a “clear-view” on the communications satellite, which was blocked previously. This is the reason we haven’t reported in quite a while and are again now sending pictures and reports.

The last of the Russian coal dust was finally washed away by the rough seas along the north coast of Svalbard. At the North Cape between the Wood and the Wijde Fiords, chaotic steep cross seas swept across Dagmar’s bulwark – a complete washing machine cycle including the spin with water and air temperatures of about 5°C.

Prismefjellet

We were not in a position to either choose this cycle or the temperatures. The first snowfall on the 10th of August had its nice side:  geographical mountain structures, which appeared as if they had been drawn, became visible on the walls of the fiords. We dropped anchor in the beautiful Mushamna Bay not far from the 903 meter-high Prismefjellet.  The new-fallen snow formed a powdery layer and revealed very clearly, like an “open book”, the folds of stone layers on the peak. Is it possible to read through a whole winter here? We discuss the pros and cons of overwintering in a remote area like this one, where several ships allow themselves to freeze in. Hauke Trinks a physicist from Hamburg, spent two winters here. The driftwood here on the beach shows clearly where the Wood Fiord gets its name from: huge amounts of wood  are swept up here every year. These are welcome greetings from Siberia.

Many whales passed closely beside us and blew through their spouts within eyeshot

We sailed out of the fiord heading north on August the 11th. The Grähuken – a mostly dark red colored stone formation (geologists call it Old Red)lies  on the north-east shore. This formation is open to the winds and presents a very flat shoreline area of grey stone set in front of rough cliffs. At this less than inviting place, Christiane Ritter spent the winter of 1934-35 and wrote her melancholy book called “A Woman Experiences the Arctic Night”. (“Eine Frau erlebt die Polarnacht”).

The “washing cycle” which followed in the cross seas, was quite typical for the high Arctic. It presented us in the days that followed with many of its majestic and absolutely impressive sides: many whales passed closely beside us and blew through their spouts within eyeshot. We were quite sure that one of the 18 sightings was a blue whale, but we will leave this up for the experts to decide. Besides these, we also saw two hunchbacks and mink whales as well as many other whales we could not really decide on.

Seven Islands

On the other hand, we are sure of the almost 700 walrus and six polar bear sightings because we were able to watch some of them up close. We had eye to eye contact with many walruses and a polar bear, which was swimming in the water; we stood on deck surrounded by the “intensive smell” of the walruses. Neither the reek of the walrus colony on land nor our dingy disturbed the huge polar bears. These dangerous predators seemed to remain peaceful.

We had our weapons shouldered nevertheless  – this is required in Svalbard. The colony of about 150 walruses, which can reach up to 1,5 tons, lying on the shore kept to their lazy peacefulness even as a polar bear approached within a few meters of them. Why move from a comfortable position with husks that are sometimes buried in the ground? Even for the “master of the Arctic” with its tremendous strength,  a walrus’ skin is just too thick. The only endangered are the youngsters, who often get trampled to death during a sudden departure and then become polar bear food. We also sighted a snow fox and Stefan viewed the extremely rare “ivory seagull”, which can be found only in the high Arctic regions. We found blocks of ice and smaller icebergs along the coast on our way to the seven islands. These islands with their table mountains are the northern most islands of Svalbard and are seldom visited.

This is the price one pays for a very exciting and impressive journey through ice fields!

“From a distance and under good weather conditions, these islands are blue and translucent.” Alfred Andersch wrote this is 1965. During his journey in the “high parallels”, which is what he titled his log, he was unable to visit these islands; he was stopped by ice near the southern islands at 80° 45’ N. We sailed at a high speed from Phippsoya at the northern edge of the islands to 81°31,6’ N (021° 03,0’ E) under strong south-easterly winds up to six Beaufort.  We found ourselves just 942 kilometers from the North Pole –to the North Cape in Norway it is 200 kilometers further! The pack ice has built a barrier just this far north. We set a satellite buoy out here, which is reporting its position.
 

On the 24th of June, 1827 William Edward Parry pulled his heavily loaded ships on runners onto the pack ice at 81° 12,8’ N. This year, from our position much further north, we would have had to journey quite a distance to reach icebergs large enough for such a manoeuvre. The dramatic loss in Arctic sea ice becomes obvious in such comparisons. But despite the retreat of the ice, we had our hands full with water and air temperatures around the freezing point, often recurring thick fog, heavy snowfall and ice around us and in the sails and cordage. This is the price one pays for a very exciting and impressive journey through ice fields!

On our return journey southward we visited three small and totally remote islands on the north coast. These islands are covered with bare stones and gravel and very little vegetation and with the exception to our visit, were most likely only stepped upon this year by the many polar bears in the area. In contrast to them, we have other motives to “move on all fours” while we examine the interesting geology here. All around Svalbard lay different smoothly polished stone layers and display the many chapters in the earth’s history -  going back a billion years.

Edgeoya

Besides this we passed closely along the majestic edge of Kvitoya which is almost completely covered in glaciers. It was however impossible to land on this exposed island. We were sailing under a strong swell and had a forecast of winds up to eight Beaufort. The Arctic has its own rules. We won against the strong winds and anchored safely in a bay on Edgeoya - the third largest island of Svalbard. Thick fog is still accompanying us. The crew is still in the best of moods and everyone is guessing – are we surrounded by stone grey, mouse grey or ash grey? Once in a while, after about 900 sea miles and 21 days since Murmansk, thoughts of  loved ones and friends at home, “dark nights” and even a bathtub full of hot water do arise.

During our last bright night anchored in Svalbard we experienced the fascinating light of the high north in a “field of gold”: For hours the sun wandered just a hand’s width above the horizon and displayed the whole glory of the midnight sun. Arved had chosen one more  fantastic bay to anchor in: Russebukta Bay. Following intensive and wonderful weeks here in the high Arctic, we are looking forward to the south – to Vardo 500 sea miles away. We will report from there!

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