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6/13 M/S Quest

Icebreaker: A Conversation Starter

32 °F

Was it anticipation, unending daylight or jet lag? No matter; sleep was difficult.

But, when Elke came on the PA system with our wakeup call at 7:15 I was deep asleep. Breakfast at 7:30, into warm clothes and rented rubber boots and aboard Zodiacs at 9:00. The sky is overcast, the temperature in the high thirties but with windchill as we motor toward the glaciers it is much colder.



En route we beach ourselves at Ossian Sars Fjellet for a hike, dividing into three groups: easy, medium and hard. I opt for medium. It is muddy and at times steep but we follow Rutger and enjoy ourselves, first footfall on true Arctic wilderness. There are reindeer and the remains of reindeer past, birds of many ilks and a lone fox fitted with a GPS collar. The view back to M/S Quest, particularly for Atlanta’s Bill and Nancy is sublime.


Birds nest on the cliff safely away from predators. Rutger explains that their eggs are pear shaped--they won’t roll off the narrow ledge.

Back into the Zodiacs—there are five of them to handle all 46 of us—we make for the glaciers edge at Kronebreen. Seals lounge and swim here and there, the silence of the place only occasionally broken for the necessity of the outboard motors to get us from A to B. In my Zodiac are eight other adventurers and Rutger. Only Bill and Nancy and I have English as our first language but, unlike Americans, most Europeans don’t limit themselves to a single language so we communicate without difficulty.07BirdsOnCliffJuly15Bay.JPG12GlacierRetreat.JPG5fc77bf0-9262-11e9-a979-ffb2cdfedbd6.JPG08ArcticFox.JPG5fb8fd00-9262-11e9-806d-9128a19760a8.JPG

By 1:00 we are back aboard M/S Quest for a lunch of hot soup and wonderful chicken—and much else. I take time to write and organize the photographs you see here before a “mandatory” Ny-Alesund briefing from Elke scheduled for 2:30. And, soon after that, we arrive at 78 degrees, 56 minutes North, 11 degrees, 56 minutes East.

15Ny-AlesundStore.JPGd08a0fb0-9262-11e9-a6d8-f7c78474b2dd.JPGd085c9f0-9262-11e9-9ffb-df0a080c3a76.JPG16RoaldAmundsenBust.JPGd07a5840-9262-11e9-a979-ffb2cdfedbd6.JPGNy-Alesund is the northernmost permanent settlement in the world. Up to 200 hundred researchers and scientists live here in summer; 20 to 30 stay through the darkness of the winter months. Not nearly large enough to qualify as a city or even a town, it is a “research base” where ten countries do science in a “near pristine environment.” To ensure non-interference with sensitive scientific equipment, we are warned to turn off all cellular and wireless capabilities on all computers and phones before we leave M/S Quest. There are no networks for either here but the mere fact that devices are searching for them causes the scientists here undue stress.

Norway, Germany, Japan, Great Britian, The Netherlands, Italy, France, Korea, China and India have permanent stations. NASA has a couple of dishes mounted on trailers marked “Woolard Flight Facility.” Unique from my experience, their dishes—and others located here—all point straight UP.

B4 wishes she were here to see the planet’s northernmost store. More correctly referred to as a gift shop it has hours most retailers would find not conducive to profitability: 3:00pm to 4:00pm. The bar is open on Thursday and Saturday nights. A communal dining facility serves everyone; no kitchens are allowed in any of the residences here. It is said that the Italians alone import regional cuisine and everybody here loves it when it is their turn to make pasta. Behind the Chinese building is a maze of wires and posts. I ask what the experiment is all about. I am told, simply, “Everybody wants to know the answer to that. They won’t talk about it.”

Originally a coal mining facility, many died here extracting that filthy fuel. For both safety and economic reasons, that activity ended here in the sixties. From here, various assaults to become “first man to make it to the North Pole” originated. Many failed, many succeeded. Airplanes and dirigibles took flight to make it that final way—quite a long way—northward. Rutger explains about Roald Amundsen (1872-1928) who is commemorated here with a bust. We are mindful of the “STOP!” POLAR BEAR DANGER sign which warns, “Do not walk beyond this sign without your firearm.” Our guides have them; they always have them.

During our evening briefing, I enjoy a Svalbard Bryggeri draft, the local beer. Climate change is discussed as we analyze a map showing how far the glaciers we visited today extended in 1990 and, further back in time, 1936. That reduction in glacier size is just plain scary. B4 and I saw the same thing on our Alaska cruise last summer. What will it look like when my grandsons are 70?
18WindForecast14th.JPG20ElkeExplains.JPG0b232120-9263-11e9-a6d8-f7c78474b2dd.JPG0ac103f0-9263-11e9-9dfa-fd11b5307858.JPGTonight, we stop at 14th July Bay. We do this tonight because tomorrow is predicted to host bad weather which will keep us in fjords and out of major channels; and, more significantly, out of the zodiacs. We expect 15-18 knot winds unlike today which was still. The wind moves the ice which restricts our potential path; we do not operate in fast moving pack ice. The forecast for wind prevents Elke from making a plan for Saturday and onward. Simply put, she packed a lot into today because the future may not be conducive to a similar concentration of off-ship adventures.

The captain hosts a cocktail party tonight. The hotel department head and ships doctor are both from Honduras. The safety officer and chief officer hail from the Russian Federation and the navigation officer hails from Romania. The captain himself, Alexi, is Ukranian. He works on both poles; he likes cold seas. He also allows for visits to the bridge, but while there “do not touch any buttons or our voyage will be a little bit shorter.”

At dinner, salad just completed, lambchop just coming out, the PA came alive with Elke’s voice, “Humpback.” We scrambled up to the outside decks to find a small one, alone, diving. I got just a bit of tail.
After dinner, we piled one final time into the Zodiacs for a trip to July 14 Bay in search of puffins. We found some, along with another Arctic Fox and more Reindeer and, of course, more nesting birds.22Puffin1.JPG

Back on ship, the PA crackled a final time. “If you are prone to seasickness, kindly take a tablet now as we are heading soon into the outer sea. If you plan to shower, do that now as well. And, please take all your valuables and place them on the floor of your cabin so that they have nowhere to fall.” Clearly, we expect rougher seas tonight. I hope to sleep through it.

Posted by paulej4 00:13 Archived in Svalbard

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If this trip is not a reset for the soul, I don't know what would be! Looks stunning. Enjoy!

by Amanda Burge

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