Spitsbergen 2013

An online log of Atlantis' travels and adventures to Svalbard

What's the view from your window this Saturday?

Posted by admin on June 8, 2013

2000 miles travelled (straight line distance), 105 to go.  Sun out, wind easing and now allowing us to free sheets.  Porridge for breakfast.  All very well on board.

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The final mile

Posted by admin on June 7, 2013

Position report: 75º 34'N 011º 52E

It is 150 miles to be exact but it does feel like nearing the end of any long journey.  The kids are getting restless and it is hard to resist the temptation to glance repeatedly at the chart to see if Svalbard - Land! - is yet any closer.  For the last 48 hours we have enjoyed the 'Soldier's Breeze' we spoke of in earlier blogs and have made good progress. With it has come a '?????'s Sea' - powerful but grumpy, erratic and often confused; we'll leave you replace the question marks. No prizes for the best answers. We have also spent much of our time recently in the fog so prevalent over polar oceans. Cold, cloying, damp fog that saps temperature from the body.  Just now, it has cleared for a while and the sun is out - but there's no heat in it either.  Breath now condenses inside the cabin and the water temperature, as it washes over the decks is best described as 'bracing'.  The wind, too, is determined to work make us work for the final miles. All morning, its direction has been edging ever further into exactly the northerly heading that we need to follow.  We shall end up, at some stage, having to tack westward in order to then lay our final waypoint at the head of the Isfjord - a 50 mile stretch of water that leads to our destination at Longyearbyen.  All this means that the distance we have yet to sail is increased somewhat so it is difficult to predict an exact ETA.  Suffice it to say that, barring incidents, we should get in sometime on Sunday.   That's it, for now.  Have a great weekend.

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'Thar she blows'

Posted by admin on June 5, 2013

It was Rupert who spotted the glistening reflection of sunlight on water droplets nearly a mile away off our port bow.  Whales!  We have previously spotted a pair of [probably] minke whales at a distance near Scotland but this was different.  A number of 'blows' in the same spot suggested a gam (the collective noun for whales) on or near the surface.  With the determined resolve of Captain Ahab, we altered course to take a look. 

Orca - Killer Whales

Food again now.  Members of the Royal Yacht Squadron who attended the autumn Cookery Weekend at the Castle will remember the wonderful tutelage and fare provided, inter alia, by Michelin starred Chris Galvin (Galvin at Windows), Gioconda Scott of Trasierra and micro-baker Rose Prince.

I regret many of the lessons learned remain beyond me, but last night's more agricultural (but wholesome and tasty) chicken and leek pie was adorned by the only skill I have retained from the event - a decorative swan [of sorts] photographed here in tribute and thanks to Victoria Raymond, Emma Preece and all those who organised and contributed to such a fun and educational weekend.  

Now, I accept the photos are not prize-winning (you try from a rolling deck),  but the unmistakeably tall fin and blaze of white confirmed beyond doubt a multiple group of killer whales.  Two groups, in fact, although one was too far away to see clearly.  A cluster of fulmar and a single predatory skua over the site suggested the orca were feeding - perhaps on one or more of the fulmar whose companions had grouped to commiserate their loss - or, more likely, fight for the scraps.  As we approached more closely, the whales were off; sounding and not to be seen again.  It was a wonderful sight and perhaps a taster of things to come.  It is certainly an experience we hope to witness more of as our expedition continues.  Enthused, we altered course once more for Svalbard.

The Soldier's Breeze' we spoke of in an earlier blog has begun to fill in; albeit, at this stage with the limp lacklustre of ......[I'll check myself here before insulting anyone] .... but it is certainly not yet the magnificent gusto befitting a crew pair of ex General Officers.  In an confused swell, without the dampening effect of wind in the sails, it makes for an uncomfortable ride. 

The [Dying?] Swan

And finally, a word of anticipatory warning.  We are now at 71ºN and in a few days will be approaching the northern edge of the Inmarsat near global guaranteed footprint.  There is a chance that comms may become more difficult and our ability to update the blog with photos etc more of a challenge.  To be fair, we haven't witnessed any decline in signal strength yet and our wonderful Sailor Fleet Broadband 250 terminal has been pumping the 1s and 0s back to the web like a trojan.  But it is best to be warned and a timely reminder to readers (if we have any?) that if we are 'off air' for a while it does not mean we're in trouble!  We'll get info back somehow but it may be a little more sparse - not dissimilar to our onboard ablutions regime in these northern waters!

It even worked here!

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Raftsund & Trollfjord

Posted by admin on June 4, 2013

We left Svolvaer as planned after fuelling and on a rising tide in order to transit a narrow and shallow cut into the Raftsund.  From there it was but a mile to the entrance to the extraordinary Trollfjorden.  Pictures paint a thousand words. Click 'Read full post' below for others.

Picturesque fuel berth - Svolvaer

Miserable weather



We had the fjord to ourselves as is was getting on for midnight.  Despite being severely tempted to stop for the reminder of the night to await the end to the day's persistent rain, self discipline prevailed and we set north along Raftsund to the open sea.  As at 1630 BST (now 4th June) we are 50 miles north of the Lofoten range and heading north - or at least we would be if the wind wasn't from there too.  Instead we are heading more north-westerly to cross a narrow ridge of high pressure.  We were expecting to have to do this and have great hopes of better wind strength and direction in a day or two.  Spirits are high, the temperature is lower.  

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Posted by admin on June 2, 2013

At 2200 BST on 2 June, Atlantis moored safely at Svolvaer: capital of the Lofoten Islands in Northern Norway.  We shall be here for less than 24 hours before making our way onwards for the final leg north.  Before arrival, we had been looking forward for some time to witnessing the spectacular coastline the islands are famous for as we approached our first landfall for five days.   Sadly, despite hitherto enjoying a day of almost unbroken sunshine, it was not to be! 

 One of the world's finest panoramic vistas!

Svolvaer, the capital of the Lofoten group of islands seems a happy little place and the folk we've met have had a particularly welcoming attitude.  We are typing this in the foyer of the town's main hotel where they had no qualms about letting us use the internet freely despite being non-residents.  It allows us to give the Inmarsat terminal a rest for a day - it has been working flat out for the last day re-downloading electronic charts after the gremlins, or norwegian goblins perhaps, got into the onboard computer system. A gamechanger therefore. (PS We do have paper charts too in case anyone is worried all our navigational eggs are in one basket!)

In persistent drizzle we conducted the other normal chores of arrival: shopping for fresh food, shower, reporting to the harbour authorities, laundry etc - not necessarily in that order.  Even officialdom has been easy and efficient.  The weather nevertheless contributes to a slightly bleak drabness and one cannot help feeling there is something of the 'Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' about this remote outpost.  If the weather would lift, we understand the backdrop is normally starkly beautiful. Maybe it will clear before we depart?

Later today (it's now the 3rd June) we shall move Atlantis to the fuel dock, embark as much diesel and water as we can possibly squeeze into the tanks - it now potentially has to last us for a month or more - and prepare once again for departure.  From here our route takes us almost due north through the Raftsund; a deep cut which divides the Lofoten islands and where we shall take a short diversion to visit one of Norway's finest fjords.  The Trollsfjord is at times is only 100 metres wide between 300 metre cliffs - it should be spectacular despite the dreary weather.

Once clear of the Lofoten group, we shall sail north.  Almost literally as far as we can.  Svalbard currently marks the southern limit of Arctic closely packed ice but the ice charts, which we monitor daily, show that it is thinning fast and the time of our arrival should coincide exactly with sufficent of the thaw to allow us to explore further north as we intend.  Our passage to Longyearbyen on Spitzbergen is likely to take 5 days in a predominantly strong south-westerly wind.  There's a term for a fresh breeze which blows on the beam thus requiring no tacking or trimming of the sails.  A 'soldier's wind' (T'will take a sailing vessel somewhere without requiring much nautical ability).  How appropriate in so many respects!

For Svolvaer pilotage notes and hints click 'Read Full Post'.

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