Spitsbergen 2013

An online log of Atlantis' travels and adventures to Svalbard

Coal Mining, Fine Dining

Posted by admin on July 10, 2013

After the serenity of anchorage in Trygghamna, Friday night saw a return to a more industrial landscape only ten miles away across the mouth of the Isfjord.  This time, to the Russian mining settlement of Barentsburg.  Unlike abandoned Pyramiden, Barentsburg is still a working mine; albeit currently inactive since a fatality in the levels in July. Despite a reported resident population of 4-500, we didn't see many of them out and about and it has all the hallmarks of a Pyramiden in waiting.  Desolation pervades with decaying infrastructure left simply to crumble.  Nevertheless, there are signs of some re-generation too.  A new clinic building is approaching completion, the community hall and Kulturhus is being reclad in thermal tiles in anticipation of more winters to come and the fenced off Russian consulate building not unlike many the world over. 

After an uncomfortable, choppy night alongside at the crumbling pierhead we explored ashore but didn't stay long.  It is a diconsolate place and an hour ashore was enough.  Perhaps we missed a gem of more optimistic prospects - we suspected not.

The cold, wet mist that has pervaded Fiona and Ilana's short stay with us persisted throughout our return to Longyearbyen.  Alongside once again, we set to work preparing Atlantis and ourselves for our respective journies home; Fiona and Ilana by air to UK and Brussels and Atlantis' crew for the long passage south. Our rifle has been handed back, fuel and water tanks filled and sufficient fresh food embarked for the first few days.  

Time for a final treat however; and what a treat it was.  Huset Restaurant is regarded as one of Scandinavia's finest - guests allegedly travel from across Norway to dine there.  Whilst its location in Longyearbyen might appear incongruous its menu is most certainly not. After enjoying a fabulous evening of exquisite haute cuisine and carefully matched fine wines to celebrate the time the girls have spent with us, we can see why.

There was no time for cameras at Huset - we were too distracted enjoying the meal.  Later, after a final photo to record our time together in Svalbard, Fiona and Ilana departed at 3:30 AM on Tuesday for the airport.  Onboard Atlantis, there didn't seem to be much point in hanging around so we slipped our moorings too.  As the girls' aircraft accelerated to take off, we waved them farewell from the fjord alongside the runway and set course for the sea.   The weather for the majority of their stay may have been mainly grey and gloomy but their presence alone was sunshine enough for us.

All aboard!

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Isfjord - Company and comrades

Posted by admin on July 9, 2013


After so much time sailing recently 'a deux' it has been a real pleasure having Fiona and Ilana join us for a week spent exploring the Isfjord.  By way of catch-up, we spent Wednesday visiting much of what Longyearbyen has to offer before venturing out in damp conditions on Thursday to Templefjord to the east - so called because of the monumental buttress escarpments and almost column like features of the topography.  We only got occasional glimpses through the mist but, in some ways, this made it all the more impressive. Despite the bleak and chilly weather, in the tranquility of our first anchorage we were delighted to spot an arctic fox patrolling the beach: a seemingly sole occupant of an otherwise deserted ice strewn bay.

In the same vein of sparse occupancy, but a very different context, Friday's itinerary took us to the abandoned Russian mining community of Pyramiden where we moored Atlantis to the pier once used to fill ships with coal. Once home to 1000 souls with all the facilities one would expect of a small provincial town and a huge but now derelict mine infrastructure, the site was abandoned almost instantaneously in 1998 -on the 10th of January it is said.  Until then, the town had latterly operated as an isolated relic of the Soviet Union;retaining much of Soviet practice long after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Lenin's bust still has pride of place in the main thoroughfare. All sorts of thoughts come to mind walking around an almost totally uninhabited town that is slowly regressing to nature. Up-market gulls who must feel most privileged roost on window sills, arctic foxes roam the heating ducts and the buildings and the facilities slowly disintegrate. The one remaining occupied building is run as a seemingly rather bizarre hotel with more staff (themselves somewhat odd - but we suppose you have to be to live here for the season) than guests. Picture an amalgam of FawltyTowers, Hotel California, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and an overly extravagant urban set for a post-apocalyptic B movie and you start to sense the feel of the place.

From Pyramiden, our path lay west to the mouth of the Isfjord to Trygghamna; scene of our first foray from Longyearbyen nearly a month previously.  Much of the snow has gone now, as have the walrus we saw there then, but the beauty of the place remains.  A shore excursion was rewarded with close encounters with a curmodgeonly Bearded Seal and several more inquisitive and agile Ring seals in the lagoon at the foot of the glacier. 

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Two marvellous lifts

Posted by admin on July 6, 2013

Arrival back in Longyearbyen after nearly a month in the far north felt like something of a homecoming. Things had changed somewhat during the period we had been away; the water pipes to the pontoon had thawed, a new pontoon had been installed but much of the coming and going of cruise ships and daily tourist boat trips into the Isfjord was reassuringly familiar. We had good reason to be on time. On Tuesday, our respective better halves, Fiona and Ilana, were due to fly in to spend a week with us onboard Atlantis. Before their arrival we had rapid work to do - not least resolving our propellor shaft problem once and for all. Neither Fiona nor Ilana would have wished to spend their short stay in Svalbard in a boatyard but the unsettling knocking of the bronze fitting rotating freely around the shaft had reached the point where it could be put off or ignored no longer.

We considered a number of options: another dive had no greater chance of success than those we had made in Ny Alesund; grounding the stern on a carefully selected sloping beach and waiting for the tide to go out had some merits but needed exactly the right slope of beach, perfect weather and meticulous tidal calculations with a high risk of mishaps exacerbating our problems further. We opted for the somewhat costlier but more certain plan of using Longyearbyen's only mobile crane. Any fears we might have had that Atlantis' 22 tons would be too much for it were allayed by its massive 200 ton lift limit. At 6:30pm on Monday, soon after the last cruise ship of the day had departed, this leviathon appeared onto the main wharf and began setting up next to Atlantis lying alongside the quay.

With a little trial and error, slings were positioned under Atlantis' bow and stern and the lift began. It very rapidly became apparent that a full lift onto the quay was unnecessary as the shaft and errant fitting lifted clear of the water. Andy deployed into the dinghy with the toolbox and set to work below Atlantis hanging in the slings, with Rupert standing by on the deck above. Inspection of the problem out of the water gave much greater clarity than that possible previously through a murky facemask and with limited lungfuls of air. The internal fitting of the stern gland had displaced around the shaft and the loose fitting was therefore unable to align with it to be secured.

It was subsequently the work of minutes to drop a line under the shaft and back onto deck and Rupert used the sheet winches gently to lift it back into place. Thereafter the job was simplicity itself. The loose fitting slotted neatly into its housing, was screwed tightly into position and the job was done. The yacht was lowered back into the water, slings detached, engined trialled and the crane packed up. By 9pm we were back on our mooring; fixed - albeit with decks now almost totally black from the boots of the crane crew and the dirty, sooty dust so prevalent here in Longyearbyen.

We devoted Tuesday morning to cleaning the boat inside and out and by 2pm were promptly 'present and correct' at Longyearbyen Airport to meet the girls from their plane. By 2:15 we were back at the boat having lunch and enjoying their company for the first time in over a month and a half. Atlantis may have been lifted only a few metres. Our spirits were lifted immeasurably.  Our plans now are to spend the week exploring the 50 miles or so length and 30 mile breadth of the Isfjord with its multiple glaciers, subsidiary fjords and other fascinating points of interest before the ladies fly home and we begin the long passage south to UK.

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Entente Cordiale

Posted by admin on July 1, 2013

We left Ny Alesund in glorious conditions but little wind for the 24 hour passage south to Longyearbyen.  With a useable engine albeit dicky prop shaft, we were in a better position than a French yacht; the interestingly named 'Blue Benda' (neither of us has yet plucked up courage to ask the origins of her seemingly somewhat inappropriate soubriquet - does 'double entendre' translate?).  

During the previously reported early morning Ny Alesund shenanigans to make room for Saga Sapphire's tenders, the Blue Benda's starter motor and engine wiring loom had protested with something of a gallic melt-down - literally.  Sans moteur, owners Philipe and Beatrice and crew Gilles now faced a long trip south in the predominantly windless conditions.  We agreed to remain on hand to assist if required through the early part of the trip.  After an initial period ghosting along under sail, it was not long before we had them in tow through the most navigationally challenging sections of the Karl Forlandsund - a shoal patch navigable only by maintainance of a precise transit. 

After four hours, back in deep water and with a rising breeze, we released the tow-line.  Job done. Under sail once again, Atlantis made good progress towards the Isfjord where the weather closed in.  By the time only thirty miles remained for us to reach Longyearbyen, Blue Benda had fallen over 10 miles astern.  It was obvious from her AIS track that she had lost any wind that we had retained and was drifting helplessly without either wind or engine; carried by tide back in the direction of Ny Alesund.  After only the briefest of moral debates we turned back to find them; rewarding ourselves for 'doing the right thing' with an extra shot of whiskey.  Two hours later, in thick, miserable 'gloop' and no wind, they were certainly pleased to see us.  We took them in tow once again.

Slowed by the additional burden, and anxious not to over-stretch our already vulnerable prop-shaft it took a long eight hour slog to return, once again, to Longyearbyen. 

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Ny Alesund II

Posted by admin on June 29, 2013

Safely back in Ny Alesund, with the prospect of another day of strong southerly winds in store thoughts turned to maintenance and repair.  Principal of our concerns was the loud and obviously out of place knocking coming from the propellor shaft.  We knew the problem; we were just not looking forward to the fix.  As previously identified in Magdalene Fjord, a bronze fitting that helps support the shaft had become detached from its housing and was now rattling round on the shaft.  The only way to address the problem was in the water.

Our luck was in.  Amongst the specialist staff of the national scientific institutions represented in Ny Alesund are a professional dive team working on behalf of the German Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research.  We are enormously grateful to Divemaster Max, Diver Kai and the other members of the dive and scientific team for twice ending an already busy day recovering samples with an additional dive on Atlantis' propellor shaft.  On Kai's second visit to the problem, Andy went over the side to lend a second pair of hands.  Sadly, a quick fix in the water still eluded us all; despite their obvious and very considerable professional skills.  Something was still out of alignment and the fitting stubbornly refused to return to its housing.

Any disappointment we might have felt in our inability to effect a repair was mitigated by an unexpected treat.  Our stop coincided with a brief visit by the cruise ship 'Saga Sapphire'.  An early morning reorganisation of the harbour's mooring arrangements was necessary to accommodate her tenders disgorging her predominantly British passengers to visit the settlement.  In ensuing dockside conversations with Steven, the Saga Sapphire's Staff Captain, an invitation was therefore extended to visit the ship for lunch.  Conscious that both of us were eligible, by age, for Saga Holiday's services we accepted 'with much pleasure'.  A further bonus was an offer to whisk off our dirty washing and have it returned to its former glory by the ship's full service laundry.  How could we refuse? 

So the theme of our return to Ny Alesund was one of generosity on many counts.  Our grateful thanks to the Officers and Crew of the Saga Sapphire and, particularly, to Max, Kai and the dive team of the Alfred Wegener Institute who could not have been more helpful or similarly disappointed when we had not been able to resolve the prop shaft problem.  We remained confident, however, that if we used the engine sparingly and nursed it when we did, we were in good shape to continue our journey south back towards the Isfjord and Longyearbyen.

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