Isfjord - Company and comrades
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.