Spitsbergen 2013

An online log of Atlantis' travels and adventures to Svalbard

Ny London

Posted by admin on June 20, 2013

One can only imagine the unchecked optimism that overwhelmed Ernest Mansfield to see the potential for establishing the English Marble Company at Ny London.  Against the backdrop of the pre and post war turmoil from 1910 to 1920 his enthusiasm must have been significant; sufficient to persuade backers to finance his dream, and to motivate the hardy souls who must have accompanied his venture.  It takes less imagination to sense the despondency he (and they) must have felt when the marble mined here was found to have been reduced to dust and fragments by the time it was disembarked in UK; inate flaws in the rock causing the rock to disintegrate with the rise in temperature and conditions encountered on route.  The industrial and domestic relics of Mansfield's optimism lie now as testament to his folly.  

Ny London today provides a window back in time - the cast name-plates on the sides of decaying cranes, steam engines and steam hammers a reminder of the foundry and industrial capacity of Leicester in the 1920s.  Anyone with doubts about the longevity of their Aga or Rayburn need only come here to see how their antecedents fared here in the Arctic; bar the rough layout of foundation and flooring timbers, the iron ranges stand out almost as eerie gravestones for the only remaining testament to the accommodation huts they must once have warmed.    

Atlantis and crew remain warmed by our repaired heater which, having only recently been refusing to soldier, is likely very soon to be promoted!  Whilst recording in our previous blog the collective support and assistance found in these parts I should also have mentioned our thanks to Peter of Eberspacher UK whose advice contributed to the heater's restart.  We have welcomed the warmth it provides as the weather has been 'dreary'; and that's an understatement.  The overall temperature has actually been warmer but persistent drizzle, low cloud, and still biting winds have made life outside the warm cabin uncomfortable.  The rise on ambient temperature has also, however, led to a significant breakup of ice at the various glacier faces that surround us, and our rate of travel has been slowed by the need to pick our way carefully through it.  Nevertheless our exploring continues and we spent last night at an uncomfortable anchorage at the head of the north-south aligned Krossfjord at a spot notable for another previous British visitor.  On a rock next to the bay, Bill Tilman painted the name of his yacht 'Baroque' when he visited in 1974.  When the wind eases enough to allow us to row the dinghy ashore safey, we shall find out more.

More domestics now.  We have also been nurturing the leaky gearbox which still has a tendency to drop oil into the bilge.  We think we have identified the source; a gasket in the most inaccessible depths of the hull but despite nipping up the nuts and bolts to stem the flow, the leak remains tiresomely unchecked.  We are still managing though, with regular top-ups to replace the oil lost each day.  Meanwhile, the Inmarsat FB250 satellite unit is enjoying the north-alignment of the fjord to give us the unexpected signal which permits the filing of this blog.  At 79º 16'N the terminal's capacity to sustain comms at this latitude is surprising and notable.  It is competing with the heater for worthy promotion.    

From here, we shall this evening return to Ny Alesund for final top-ups of fuel and water before heading north again to the north-west tip of Spitzbergen.

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Ny Alesund

Posted by admin on June 19, 2013

A very quick update as comms are tenuous - we'll also try to upload a pic or two but if it fails please bear with us or if formatting is a little ragged.  

After a 24 hour stop-over in the globe's most northerly settlement, Ny Alesund (pop 30 in winter 150 in summer), we have fixed the heater which is a very major fillip to morale!  As tends to be the case in these remote expedition locales, a 'fraternity' spirit prevails and support is readily forthcoming; our heater fix owes much to the skipper and crew of the Dutch schooner Noorderlicht (who provided copper pipe for an exhaust), the Polish Chief Engineer of the expedition support vessel 'Expedition' (who braised the connections) and the staff of the Kings Bay Company in Ny Alesund whose workshop is equipped for most eventualities.  Our gearbox leak continues, but we are making progress with that too.  All in all a most rewarding interlude.  We have also checked in with the extremely helpful and friendly police representatives of the Svalbard Governor based in the settlement, who keep check on passing vessels, ensure they have the necessary permits and provide assistance and advice in equal measure. Their main role is to protect environmental standards and the very many historical sites in the area.  Sadly, our visit coincided with a fatality on a small cruise ship which is a salutory reminder of the dangers all in the area face in these harsh climes.

From Ny Alesund we enjoyed the most spectacular glacier viewing thus far at the head of the Kongsfjord.  Threading our way to the glacier face through floating ice into uncharted water where the glacier has receded, we were rewarded with a most extraordinary landscape of ice in all its majesty.   Last night was spent in a delightful anchorage at Ny London - a testament to the failed endeavour of much of what we have witnessed - in this case a British marble mining enterprise c1920s.

From here we shall head north again into Krossfjorden with more spectaculr glaciers before returning to Ny Alesund for a quick fuel and water stop and then heading back to sea and north to the north-west tip of Spitsbergen.  The latest ice charts suggest that is where we shall meet our hard stop as ice currently blocks any further progress across the northern shores for a circumnavigation.  But there is so much yet to explore this is in no way a disappointment.  The situation evolves on a daily basis so we shall see what happens over the next few days.

The 120' barque 'Antigua' gives some idea of scale.

You're too close to my nest!

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Glaciers Galore

Posted by admin on June 16, 2013


16th Jun.  We have recently weighed anchor from deep in the St Jonsfjorden - a sizeable fjord culminating in a most impressive glacier.  Taking Atlantis into uncharted water recently uncovered by the retreating glacier face was an exciting and somewhat nerve-wracking experience; complicated further by the need to dodge floating ice that had recently carved from the glacier face.  You really cannot appreciate the scale of the scenery here until close up and personal.  From a distance the glacier looked impressive enough.  At its face one begins to appreciate the size of the ice cliff which, in this case we estimate to be well over 100 feet.  To give some idea of scale, the white blocks floating at the base on the right of the photo are about the height of a man.

Now, to recap a little and make up for the paucity of words published since we left Longyearbyen.  Pictures from previous posts provide the illustrations.  After an initial day spent in the Isfjord we visited a small bay named Borebukta to witness the close floating ice still there after the winter, then it was a short sail into Trygghamna a small fjord at the mouth of the main Isfjord.  The following day, in a near perfect anchorage close to the end of the fjord we inflated the dinghy and set off for our first foray ashore.  On the beach, signs of Arctic fox and a close up view of a smaller glacier.   Back on board another night at the same anchorage before a morning departure back into the open sea.  On route we idled near the mouth of Trygghamna to view a pair of snoozing walrus lying on the beach, the monumental bird cliff roost overlooking the beach and the remnants of whaling camps established on the headland.  

At sea again, it was a hard beat north along the coast to a sheltered anchorage at the northern end of a bay known as Eidembukta - you'll have detected by now that bukta = bay.  Here the first blow to morale was the discovery that our trusty heater had taken a gopher (wave) into its exhaust pipe and, as most of us would in similar circumstances, was now refusing to soldier.  An uncomfortable couple of hours in the cramped lazarette at the back of the boat with the heater failed to elicit a repair.  As mentioned before, this is a blow to morale but not catastrophic.  After an otherwise comfortable night tucked in behind a small group of skerries (rocks), it was time to move on again.

First stop was the low Poolepynten headland pictured in a previous blog.  It is home to a resident group of walrus who seem to relish playing lazily to the cameras.  The weather, still blustery, precluded a planned longer stop and we headed east into the five mile long St Jonsfjorden.  After viewing the glacier face it was time to find an anchorage which we achieved in a sheltered spot only metres from a grey shingle beach.

A further setback was the discovery that a seal in the engine gearbox seems to have blown (there's a joke that's very similar, but it's not suitable for a family blog) and be leaking significant quantities of oil into the bilge.  This could be more serious but not yet.  One to watch and in the meantime we shall keep topping up with as much as we lose.  A repair, here, is impractical and we shall press on regardless.  Atlantis is, after all, a sailing boat!

16 June.  After our coldest night so far (-3ºC) in the cabin, we weighed anchor, exited the fjord spying as we did so, a couple of reindeer grazing high on the slopes above us.  As I type, we are heading for the northern end of the Forlandsundet (Forland Strait) and plan to overnight at Svalbard's most northerly and remote settlement at Ny Alesund.

Our lack of recent blogs reflects not just the ever changing distractions we are privileged to experience here, or the fatigue of two days plugging to windward in strong winds and freezing seas, but also the difficulty we now have getting a satellite signal which disappears altogether when we are in fjords.  In open water, the signal is weak, slow and unable to multi-task - rather like us as a crew really, as the temperature and conditions become ever harsher.

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Forlandsundet & Poolepynden

Posted by admin on June 15, 2013

All well on board at 78º 30N 012º 12E well up the Forlandsundet which separates Spitzbergen from the off-lying Prins Karls Forland.  Heater failed last night which is a blow; but to morale rather than ambition or plans.  Pics below taken at Poolepynten - a low lying spit headland much favoured by walrus; it has an important and, in these parts, rare navigation beacon for humans too.

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Posted by admin on June 14, 2013

Well, we are certainly getting what we came for - and more.  We have spent two nights in the Isfjord anchored at the small fjord known as Trygghamna.  We have already encountered sea ice, glaciers, walrus and more.  There's too much to tell on this brief update as we set sail further north again but we'll fill in some words later.  In the meantime, some sneak previews:  

Trygghamna Anchorage

And finally, updating the blog!

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