We can now say we’ve had our fair share of ice encounters. Luckily no stuck ones (yet!) but definitely a few scares. Sailing through ice is amazing and intimidating. A thick wall of ice seen a mile away could be just a couple of hundred floating pieces spread over several miles. That was our first encounter (see July 15th post) – sailing up to a glacier that is actively carving, massive chunks falling off a few times an hour, sending ripples through the sea. We thought we wouldn’t be able to get up close as there was so much ice, then as we motored further we found that, going slowly and carefully, we could easily maneuvre around each piece.
Sailing through even sparse ice is a bit nerve-wracking. It seems simple enough when you can see a few big icebergs in the distance, but in reality, for every massive bit of ice there are ten (or fifty!) “small” pieces that are just visible on the surface. They are subject to vanishing however with sunlight, waves, gusts or just a shift in gaze. My first time with this I was the only person on deck and we were getting very very strange local weather blowing down the fjord off the glaciers. Needless to say I was quietly panicking with every 40 knot gust!
Our next encounter was brief when we nipped in to check out another glacier (July 4th glacier) only to find there was too much ice and not enough surveyed chart area for Captain Haddock’s comfort. The 30+ knots of breeze didn’t help either. We did have a bit of fun taking photos of icebergs and trying to pick up some ice for G&Ts later – unsuccessfully I should add. Our bucket was too small.
And leaving again…
Then today we had another interesting ice moment. We were heading out of Krossfjord after visiting Lloyds Hotel (more about that later). We sailed most of the way with about 40% genoa out (no main) and still managed over seven knots boat speed downwind! I think the biggest gust we saw coming down the fjord was 45kts so we were more than content with that little bit of headsail. Getting in was a bit hairy but again, more later. As we neared the opening of the fjord, the wind eased so I went forward to put the main up. As I was finishing off, obviously totally unaware of my surroundings, I suddenly heard a crackling sound – like really really loud rice crispies! A few seconds later I hear Captain Haddock “We have a problem – I might have to jybe. Would you be my ice watch?” What a romantic. Unfortunately we soon realised we couldn’t jybe either as we were completely surrounded by ice. Obviously the first priority was finding my camera and getting some photos.
After that however I stood on the foredeck, staring into the sun pointing left and right to navigate us through. It was amazing how quickly we were surrounded! And the sound it makes – the ice cracking and melting in the sun and sea. We’ve all heard it briefly when we drop an ice cube in a cold drink. This is just on a massive scale. It’s a peaceful sound in a way, similar to soft waves breaking on a sandy beach or according to Cap’n Haddock, the sound of me typing. Only colder, and harder to appreciate when zig-zagging all over the place to avoid crashing into a massive iceberg at six knots! We made it though and I got some photos.
Anyway back to the trip…
We crossed from Ny Alesund to Krossfjorden last night with the aim of getting to a little area call Mollerhamnen. Unfortunately, as always it seems, it was a beat into a strong Northerly wind. So our quick ten mile trip turned into a six hour slog against the weather. Here the biggest gust we had was 58kts – not much fun with only 2 reefs. Somehow we’d made the wise decision to drop the storm jib just a few minutes prior to that particular squall. Needless to say we gave up 2/3rds of the way and along with two other sailboats with similar intentions, found anchorage in a semi-sheltered branch of the fjord. Here’s Touche all tucked up.
By this time it was almost midnight so I think even if we’d made it to the top we probably wouldn’t have bothered going ashore and we weren’t convinced there would be much shelter around Mollerhamnen. So we did our usual of several attempts at dropping anchor, dragging, picking up again, sailing in circles to explore every other possible option until we finally settled on the first spot. Unfortunately though this also meant an overnight anchor watch.
We set off around eight to get to Mollerhamnen – this was officially our earliest morning of the entire trip so far (not counting overnight sails)! Motoring the few remaining miles to get there we still had gusts of 40+ on the nose. We made it in the end however and had a quick breakfast before inflating the dinghy (which now seems to have found itself a semi-permanent semi-inflated spot on the foredeck) attaching the engine (yay no more rowing!) and setting off to find the bright orange cabin we’d heard so much about.
Lloyds hotel was built prior to 1928 (possibly around 1912) by Hapag-Lloyd shipping company. However it was predominantly used by cruise companies, making it one of the oldest remnants of tourism in Svalbard. The most interesting thing about this cabin however is the decor. For the past hundred years people have been visiting Lloyds Hotel and leaving remnants behind so that cabin is stuffed with all sorts of odments and the walls are covered in signs from all parts of the world.
Needless to say we made sure to leave our mark by signing the guestbook. The cruising guide we picked up laid out clear instructions to not take anything and not leave anything behind. Judging by the cramped quarters this seemed pretty reasonable.
Another great feature of the cabin is that it was painted flourescent orange! Here’s the outside with D’s matching kit – good polar bear camouflage:
A quick plug for Helly Hanson – this old school kit is warmer and drier than all our fancy new stuff! J and D picked it up in the late seventies and it is still completely dry. On the other hand, I sent my oilies (less than 10 years old) back to their manufacturer (no names!!) before this trip for re-waterproofing and I had a wet bum for most of the first leg from Tromso to Svalbard…
We saw a few reindeer ashore but no polar bears. Perhaps it’s because we have no experience with the area or that we have read / heard so much about the danger of polar bears, but I feel incredibly on edge whenever we go ashore outside the main settlements! I feel as though I’m always scanning the landscape for large, burly creatures running towards us. It seems that everyone around us has seen polar bears though so still keeping fingers crossed that maybe we will get a good viewing from the boat sometime. I would rather that than when we’re on land!
After our little excursion, we headed out to sea again, content with our exploration of the entire area surrounding Ny Alesund (Kongsfjorden)! This was our crossroads, go North if we can and try to see Vergohamna, Magdalenfjord, Sallyhamna and maybe even get to 80 degrees; or if the strong northerlies were still blowing, to turn South and start heading back to Isfjord (Longyearbyen) and Bellsund.