EXPEDITION LOG BOOK 15th June - 22nd June 2008 DIVING & PHOTOGRAPHING AROUND SVALBARD DIVING AND PHOTOGRAPHING SVALBARD ON BOARD THE M/V GRIGORIY MIKHEEV Sunday, 15th June, 2008. Longyearbyen Our flight from Oslo arrived a few minutes early but by the time we had collected our luggage from the carousel and all of us had been accounted for by the staff, our luggage van and coach were ready and waiting to whisk us into the town. A cold wind was blowing to remind us all that we had reached the far north latitudes. After a walk around, some shopping and perhaps a coffee, we made our way down to the quay where the Grigoriy Mikheev was berthed and boarded her for the start of our adventure. After being shown to our cabins and unpacking we were introduced to the members of staff who would be looking after us and we were briefed on what to expect tomorrow. We then had a delicious dinner and retired to our cabins for an early night after our travels to reach this iso- lated island. Unfortunately, as we left the shelter of the harbour, the seas worsened and the ship experienced some motion which sent of us to our cabins sooner than we would have liked! Monday, 16th June, 2008. Blomstrandhalvoya and Ny Alesund The seas were somewhat calmer when we awoke and the sun was shining, illuminating the wonderful scenery and spec- tacular glaciers. The wind was still blowing, which meant that we could not land where we had hoped to land today. How- ever, “Plan B” was brought into effect and we headed around the corner to a more sheltered location. As the divers headed off in one direction, the rest of us landed on a shingle beach where kittiwakes, purple sandpipers and a long-tailed skua were to be seen. As we walked inland up a gentle incline we were passed by flocks of eider ducks and barnacle and pink-footed geese. Halfway through our walk we were treated to the sight of a ptarmigan displaying to it’s mate which then landed on a huge boulder, giving us all a great opportunity to have a good close look through a telescope kindly set up by one of our birdwatchers. We also had great views of a couple of reindeer grazing on the vegetation. This is a subspecies of the nor- mal reindeer found on the mainland and has the most effective insulating coat of it’s cousins. As we approached the old marble works we passed very close to a nesting long-tailed skua, presumably sitting tight on eggs. The marble quarry was established just above the beach where we were due to be picked up by Zodiac after our walk. There were several wooden buildings, still obviously being used for some purpose. Outside one of the huts was an ancient wooden wheelbarrow which many of us stopped to photograph. The remains of the rusting metal machinery also proved popular with the photographers amongst us. It was here that we had our best view of reindeer as two of them approached to within a few metres of our group. A snow bunting male was to be seen hunting for food amongst the vegetation beyond the old camp. Our Zodiacs duly arrived and we made our way back to the ship for a warming cup of tea or coffee before our lunch. Monday, 16th June, 2008. Blomstrandhalvoya and Ny Alesund DIVE 1 Check-up dive, Blomstrandhalvöya Once the ship anchored outside Blomstrandhalvöya, the activity on deck increased rapidly amongst us divers. Finally it was time for the first dive, the dive that so many of us have been looking forward to for almost a year. The two zodiacs slowly headed for the beach. There were 16 of us that had come up here to dive and to our help we had the Swedish Dive Master Jonas Sundquist and the Dive Guide Francois de Riberolles from France. In our group was also Franco Banfi, a famous underwater photographer form Switzerland. Blomstrandhalvöya is a perfect spot for the first mandatory check-up dive. The sandy beach offers easy donning of our dive gear and the bottom is a gradually sloping bottom down to depths between 4 and 20 meters, depending on which direction we were swimming. It took a few minutes before all of us had sorted out the gear and started to get comfortable and properly weighted in the water, but once that was ok we could all enjoy the first dive… The dive site it self didn’t of- fer that much to see when it comes to critters and vegetation but that was quickly compensated by the fact that we just completed our first dive in Arctic waters. While we were diving our dive guides were watching out for polar bears, armed with rifles and bear scares. Monday, 16th June, 2008. Blomstrandhalvoya and Ny Alesund Our afternoon landing was made onto a marina at the scientific camp of Ny Alesund. Several nations have a part time presence here, including France, Germany, N. Korea and China. The harbourmaster arranged for the only shop to be opened for us so that we could post mail and purchase some souvenirs. We then wandered around the town or had a walk around the periphery to look for wildlife. There were a few Snow Buntings carrying grass for their nests, several Arctic terns which were nesting beside the road, Eider ducks, an Ivory gull and a lone Arctic fox which brazenly loped between the buildings without a care in the World! We assembled at the Statue of Roald Amundsen, the great Polar Explorer, who spent a great deal of time here. We then continued to the old Zeppelin mooring tower on the edge of town. This is where the first successful flight over the North Pole left from in 1926. It was an impressive structure but the thought of carrying baggage up all those vertical rungs made us glad of our present day air transport system! The wind had increased slightly as we arrived back at the marina and there were whitecaps between us and the ship. This was most definitely a wet Zodiac ride back to the comfort and warmth of the Grigoriy Mikheev. After our recap and briefing we arrived at the Konsvegen Glacier at the head of the bay. The sun came out and bathed the glacier front in gorgeous light. Terns and fulmars fished in the upwelling water at the base of the glistening ice. Freshly calved areas gleamed blue and as we watched there was a small calving before our eyes. A great way to end the day. A champagne toast to the start of our voyage preceded dinner and after another excellent feast Franco gave an illustrated talk about underwater photography. Monday, 16th June, 2008. Blomstrandhalvoya and Ny Alesund DIVE 2 Ny Ålesund Lighthouse For the afternoon dive the majority of the divers chose to visit Ny Ålesund, but three of us were eager to get into the water and joined the afternoon dive at the lighthouse just 1,5 nm NW of the settlement. The dive offered a sloping bottom with some benthic life on sandy bottom mixed with low kelp. We also saw some fishes and the open water was full of life in macro style. It was an easy dive with quite good visibility once we got down to 15-20 me- ters. Tuesday, 17th June, 2008. Smeerenburgfjorden We awoke this morning to an overcast day with the occasional snow flurry, reminding us of where we are exploring on this voyage. The weak sun did it’s best to shine through the low cloud from time to time. We had picked up the National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen and his colleague Shaun before breakfast and after being in a tent for a couple of weeks they were pleased to be able to have a hearty meal and a lovely hot shower. We attempted to enter Smeerenburgfjorden between Reuschhalvoya and the island of Danskoya but the winter fast ice was still very solid and we were unable to pass through here, save for a short foray into the edge of the ice where it was a little thinner and starting to melt. At this point we were at 79 Deg. 40 mins. North. We turned around and headed back out of the strait before once again heading north towards Amsterdamoya Island, or as far as the ice would hope- fully allow. On the way out of the strait we spotted a lone male walrus in the water which popped it’s head out to have a good look at us as we passed slowly by. This was followed by the sighting of huge numbers of Little Auks, both flying and sitting on the water, occasionally diving down in search of copepods or small fish. We headed for the old 1600’s whaling “city” of Smeerenbergodden on Amsterdamoya Island and whilst the divers headed off to the edge of the ice to dive the remainder of us took to the Zodiacs and landed on this flat, sandy, spit of land. The snow cover prevented us from seeing a lot of what was lying on the ground but we walked across the nar- row spit to see the old oven remains. These were used to heat the metal trypots which were used to render the whale blubber down into oil. There was the opportunity to photograph Purple Sandpipers on the shoreline and a group of Eider ducks which were swimming just offshore. We passed part of a whale skull just protruding above the sand at one point, looking very much like a piece of timber which covered the rest of the beach. Although the weather was still overcast, with the occasional snow shower, it was still a most enjoyable and interesting walk. We then set off for the ship and made our way through the pack ice, watching Arctic Terns dip diving to catch their dinner, most probably tiny copepods just below the surface. Tuesday, 17th June, 2008. Smeerenburgfjorden DIVE 3 Outside Virgohamna/Likholmen, ice dive. It was time for dive number three and for us divers to experience some ice diving. We had anchored just outside Virgohamna and tried to dive on the ice close to “Likholmen”, but the ice was moving fast so we had to drive west to find a better spot. Once we got into the water we realised how fast the ice can move because some of us ended up in cracks on the other side of the ice to swim back between the ice before it closed in on us. The bottom was par- tially covered with kelp so we had the chance to get pictures of both ice and fauna. We also saw sea stars, crabs, anemones and some oth- er marine life. The visibility was good regarding the circumstances with some wind and moving ice and some of us ended up with some really nice pictures of the Arctic ice from below…and our computers were showing -1˚C…that’s a story to tell at home. Tuesday, 17th June, 2008. Smeerenburgfjorden The ship then headed west and north. We passed ringed seals in the water and two walrus were spotted on the ice edge. As we approached these they woke up and upon seeing us dived into the water and after poking their heads out briefly they disappeared. We then passed close to a bearded seal which was lying on the ice and this proved to be more co-operative. The bow of the ship was masterfully placed onto the ice edge by our Captain and we all had great views of the seal until it too went into the water. Rick had just finished his talk about the terminology used for ice when, further along the ice edge, with all eyes look- ing for polar bears, we spotted another two walrus on the ice and our Captain again worked his magic and we had superb views of the two seals, until they too decided they had had enough of the huge white thing beside them. As we approached them though, a lone Minke whale surfaced right beside the ice edge and we had a great view of it before, as they typically are prone to do, it sank beneath the surface and disappeared. Bird life was profuse too, with Black Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Little Auks, Arctic Terns, Great Skuas, Glaucous Gulls and Brunnich’s Guillemot being seen. We made our farthest north at 79 Deg. 55 Mins. North when we encountered pack ice that was just too thick to break through; 10/10th pack, meaning that there was no open water visible between the ice floes. At our evening briefing we heard from Paul and Shaun who told us about what they were doing here on their 6 week expedition. They are doing an article about Spitsbergen which will appear in National Geographic magazine soon. We cruised south through pack ice during dinner, and afterwards we spent time on the Bridge continuing our quest to find a polar bear. After a cold and hectic day we were glad to get into our beds and sleep the sleep of the contented! Wednesday, 18th June, 2008. Signe Hamna and Fjortende Julibreen After a leisurely start this morning we arrived in Lilliehook Fjorden, on Albert 1 Land, as the sun was beginning to break through the clouds. As the divers headed to their dive site we started our Zodiac cruise along the edge of the fjord. Pink-Footed geese, nesting Glaucous gulls, Barnacle geese, Kittiwakes, Snow Bunting and Lapland Bunting were all spotted on this cruise or shortly after we landed for a short walk. As we entered the bay where we landed there were 2 Ringed seals on the ice floes which had blown into this sheltered bay. This number increased to 4 by the time we had left. As we crested the hill above the bay we spotted two reindeer with a full set of antlers each, making a great photograph. We made our way across the plentiful vegetation to the German World War 2 weather station ruins, no more that a wooden base and a lot of rusting metal. Beyond here we could see Kittiwakes sitting on the frozen lake in a pool of water. A lone Arctic fox was spotted scurrying across the skyline. This fox then actually lay down in front of a rock and curled up and went to sleep for a short while. It was really sheltered ashore and we could feel the heat from the sun’s rays in the absence of any wind. We made our way back to the beach and boarded the Zodiacs for the run back to the ship. We then sailed towards the Lillehookbreen (glacier) whilst we had lunch and when we had finished eating we were right in front of the glacier, bathed in glorious sunshine. Seabirds were plentiful on the water and Arctic Terns were dipping and sitting on small pieces of ice. A small calving happened whilst we were watching. Another small cruise ship passed us as we headed out of the fjord in beautiful conditions. Wednesday, 18th June, 2008. Signe Hamna and Fjortende Julibreen DIVE 4 Lillehöksfjorden Time for the first real EXPEDITION DIVE. The site was picked out by Jonas and Franscois by looking at the sea chart and it turn out to be a good choice. While the so called “normal people” were cruising in the bay we took our zodiacs and drove south around the corner for a wall dive in the fjord. Being an expedition dive we were all excited to see what the dive was going to be since no one had dived there before. It all turned out to be a beautiful wall with anemones, sponges and lots of other colourful photo objects. A good dive in the unknown… Wednesday, 18th June, 2008. Signe Hamna and Fjortende Julibreen We arrived in Fjortende Julibreen to find the ship National Geographic Endeavour leaving the fjord. By now there was a chill wind and a chop on the sea as the divers headed off in their Zodiacs and we boarded for our cruise. We went straight to the bird cliffs where we saw Brunnich’s Guillemots, Kittiwakes, a nesting pair of Barnacle geese, Snow Buntings, Ei- der Ducks, Black Guillemots, Purple Sandpiper, Arctic Terns, Atlantic Puffins and Glaucous gulls. Half way through the cruise we were able to land on a gravel beach and have a short walk around below the towering cliffs. Kittiwakes were collecting moss or washed up seaweed and flying off with it to add to their nests. The weather was still reasonable so we continued along the fjord until we approached the July 14th glacier at it’s head. Seeing an immense glacier front from a Zodiac is awe inspiring and we all took many photographs. We were welcomed back on board by Francis serving us hot chocolate with rum, delicious, warming and very, very wel- coming indeed! After another lovely dinner we heard about our exciting plans for tomorrow from Delphine and once again retired in good cheer after another great day. Wednesday, 18th June, 2008. Signe Hamna and Fjortende Julibreen DIVE 5 Krossfjorden The bottom at Krossfjorden is slowly sloping down to 7-10 meters and then quickly gets steeper down to 22 meters where there is a ledge. Most of us didn’t have to go that deep though because the there were a lot to see even at 7 meters. The bottom was covered with sea urchins, some crabs and patches of pretty high kelp. Jonas and Franscois dropped us close to each other and a little bit further south were Paul Nicklen and his assistant Sean Powell doing their dive. We were all getting used to the temperature and environment so some of us could easily dive the full 45 minutes that was our maximum time. Thursday, 19th June, 2008. Alkhornet, St Jonsfjord and Poolepynten An overcast start to the day, but there was no wind to speak of and the sea was flat calm; perfect! The ship dropped off the divers at a rock in the middle of the bay and then moved a mile to where the rest of us got off and landed on a gravel beach with a steep climb up onto the flatter tundra area above. There were two huts in the area, the first a func- tioning one, the second a weatherworn and partially collapsed wreck, probably an old trapper’s hut. Delphine headed off with the strenuous walkers who were aiming for the higher plateau and Rick took the remainder on a more gentle walk along the lower slopes. On the cliff top we saw nesting Barnacle geese and Glaucous gulls. Amongst the dense vegetation on our walks we sighted Pink-footed geese flying overhead, Kittiwakes collecting moss for their nests, Snow Buntings displaying and calling, Arctic Skuas and Purple Sandpipers (on the beach). This was a great place for reindeer and we saw about a dozen altogether. Some were way up just below the cliffs where a mountain goat would have been nervous. Others passed very close to us on our walk and made a great pho- tographic opportunity. All in all a very pleasant and enjoyable walk. After lunch Paul Nicklen gave a talk about his career and showed us some of his stunning, award winning, photo- graphs. He told us about a couple of his narrow escapes whilst photographing walrus and under ice scenes which made us all think about how difficult it can sometimes be to capture these great images for the enjoyment of many! After his talk it was soon time to go on another hike, once the divers had left the decks clear for us. Thursday, 19th June, 2008. Alkhornet, St Jonsfjord and Poolepynten DIVE 6 Sagaskjeret Our nice captain Alexander Pruss dropped us diver off just a few hundred meters away from our morning dive site, Sagaskjerret. We could se the pyramid shaped rock from the ship and it only took us a few minutes in the zodiac to get there. We rolled in from the zodiac SW of the rock where the wall was located. What an amaz- ing dive. The visibility was at times up to 25 meters and it was full of marine life; anemones, sea urchins, sea stars, nudibranches, shells, and lots of more stuff. We even had a little bit better light than on previous dives so all of us that were diving with camera equipment had a busy time underwater. It was also a nice bonus to know that we had Paul Nicklen with us in the water swimming around being one of us. Thursday, 19th June, 2008. Alkhornet, St Jonsfjord and Poolepynten We landed on a stony beach in St Jonsfjord and hiked up the steep rock from the beach onto vegetation. There were many reindeer around, including some with superb antlers, and we had some really close encounters with them, sometimes them coming close to see us. We spotted a lone Arctic fox running along the beach below us with dinner in it’s mouth, looking very pleased with itself. The Kittiwakes were screaming high up on the cliffs and we saw several Pink-footed geese, Barnacle geese on a nest, Snow Buntings and we almost stepped on a Purple Sandpiper on it’s nest. After several people had passed close, one person almost stepped on it which prompted it to leave the nest and weave away looking injured to take our attention away from the nest and onto it. The de- coy worked and we were all enthralled trying to work out what it was and why it looked so weird with it’s feathers fluffed out and tail in the air! Thursday, 19th June, 2008. Alkhornet, St Jonsfjord and Poolepynten DIVE 7 Store Jonsfjorden, Expedition Dive According to the sea chart this looked like a dive similar to the one this morning at Sagaskjerret. A small ridge at 3-6 me- ters and that quickly was getting deeper on all sides around it. It turned out though that the deep parts weren’t that easy to find so we all stayed on the ridge at 6-7 meters the whole time. The dive was nice and relaxing with some benthic life and some of us even saw footprints of Walruses on the bottom. It was a little bit exciting to find out that these amazing creatures had been there just before us. We were all happy though that they didn’t show up during the dive, because it can be dangerous to be in the water with them. Thursday, 19th June, 2008. Alkhornet, St Jonsfjord and Poolepynten After another well deserved dinner we had a briefing about behaviour near walrus and then prepared for our third landing of the day. Everybody on the ship went ashore at Poolpynten on Prins Karls Forland to see the walrus. The conditions were perfect: no wind, sunshine and calm water. A beautiful evening. We landed on the spit and slowly walked along the beach towards the walrus which were lying in a group at the point. Arctic Terns were dive-bombing us as we accidentally strayed too close to their nests. The light was perfect as approached the walrus and we could get quite close to them for some fantastic photographic opportunities. There were also several in the water, playing, and they came very close to those of us sitting on the beach near the water. They were chasing each other and playing in the rays of the lowering sun, their tusks gleaming in the golden light. We stayed ashore for a couple of hours before reluctantly heading back to the Zodiacs and the ship. Because the walrus were so good, and in such good light, Paul and Shaun decided to leave us and camp on the spit with the walrus that night. Paul had seen what the walrus were doing and had decided that he would try to obtain some underwater images using a polecam from the shore. They quickly packed and said their farewells to us all before heading back into the beach. Good luck to them for their article in National Geographic Magazine. What an experience though, and one that will stay with us forever. Another exciting and unforgettable day has come to a close. Thursday, 19th June, 2008. Alkhornet, St Jonsfjord and Poolepynten DIVE 8 Midterhuken After discussing the two optional dive sites for this morning, Jonas and Franscois finally decid- ed to go for the one north of our anchor point, just outside Midtherhuken. We were dropped at about 10 meters depth and descended directly down to anemones, kelp, crabs and other ma- rine life. Franco even spotted a ray and a wolf fish that he captured with his camera. Luckily the rest of us had the chance to see them as well when Franco showed us his pictures later that evening. Friday, 20th June, 2008. Midterhuken Bird Cliffs Alhstrandodden and Recherchfjorden The cliffs where the seabirds were are striking. Steep, with beautiful folding in evidence, reminding us of the immense forces that nature can unleash and which changes the landscape dramatically. The cliffs, of course, were home to thou- sands of Kittiwakes and Guillemots. Barnacle geese also graced the grassy slopes, preparing to nest. Atlantic Puffins settled on the water in small groups whilst Arctic Skuas patrolled overhead. The odd skein of Pink-footed geese flew along the side of the cliffs. Eider ducks and Purple Sandpipers scrabbled over rocky islets offshore, whilst the ever watchful Glaucous gulls waited for an opportunity to swoop from the cliff tops. The sun was shining throughout and the Zodiac cruise was enjoyed by all. Those who chose to return to the ship whilst the rest of us landed near a derelict wooden hut with whalebones in the vicinity were treated to the sight of some Beluga whales passing close to the ship. Those onshore were lucky enough to see polar bear tracks in the snow drifts on the beach. Although we looked for the Belugas on our way back to the ship we did not get a good look at them. Friday, 20th June, 2008. Midterhuken Bird Cliffs Alhstrandodden and Recherchfjorden DIVE 9 Sterneckeöya After “dropping” anchor on the rocks that were sticking up above the surface along the ridge the 9 of us that were diving got dressed and rolled into the water at 5 meters depth. The depth was increasing rapidly and only 50 meters out from the ridge the depth sounder showed + 30 meters on the display. Some of us found a small wall south of the anchor point. The wall was reaching between 12 and 22 meters and was very beautiful with thousands of anemones, sea stars and big sea squirts. This was a great dive and we were all happy, but a little bit cold when we got back to the surface. Now we were all looking forward to the BBQ that was being prepared on deck. Friday, 20th June, 2008. Midterhuken Bird Cliffs Alhstrandodden and Recherchfjorden After lunch we landed at the remains of an old Beluga whaling station where there were pile upon pile of bleached bones just above the beach. A large hut, in excellent condition, stood on the higher ground with magnificent views all around. Purple Sandpipers searched for food along the seashore and Eider ducks stood along the beach behind. More Barnacle geese were foraging for food on the vegetated areas higher up. After walking around the whaling cem- etery and hut we split into two groups, Delphine leading the walk to the rock cairn and Rick taking the lead on the longer walk across the sodden tundra to higher ground to admire the views. It was hard going on the boggy areas and some of the snow patches were deep and soft but we all made it to the top where the scenery unfolded around us. A solitary reindeer was grazing nearby and added to the spectacle. The wind was absent and the sun was shining, making it all the easier to drink in the wonderful vistas before us. As we dropped down to the beach where the Zodiacs would collect us, some Ivory gulls were spotted and one of them came very close to the group of pho- tographers on the beach. Just before this we had had a lone Grey Phalarope which briefly stuck it’s head above some seaweed before flying off across the sea. The weather remained beautiful as we cruised into the Recherchfjorden for our BBQ evening meal. This was set up on the foredeck and what spectacular scenery there was to enjoy our dinner by; outstanding. Saturday, 21st June, 2008. Tempelfjorden and Skansbukta Yet another glorious day! Our plans changed this morning as the Endeavour, with Paul and Shaun on board, had spotted a mother polar bear with her two year old cub hunting on some fast ice in a fjord. We immediately headed there and soon after arriving off the edge of the ice, with the Tunabreen (glacier) forming a wonderful backdrop, we saw many ringed and bearded seals and sure enough, there were the two bears on the ice. They were unfortunately distant but they could be seen running, diving into the open water areas, rolling around and sniffing the air and ice for signs of their food; the seals! The pale yellow colour of their fur stood out really well against the white of the fast ice. We watched them for a couple of hours before we retired for lunch and they were even further away after lunch so we decided to head out of the fjord for our landing site of the day. Our last landing was onto a beach with huge bird cliffs towering above us. This was Skansbukta, called Billefjorden (“the Wild West”) it is the site of a previous, unsuccessful, attempt to mine for gypsum. And so ends our voyage of discovery in the far North, time to pack and take our memories away with us from this special part of the World.
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