Eek! More ice!! This was at 5:30 in the morning. D woke up first to a knocking, scraping sound on the side of the boat. Oh s*** we’ve run aground! Fortunately not… But there was ice, massive chunks of it gliding past us. Our lovely calm anchorage had turned into a gale blowing off the glacier at the end of the fjord. And the gale brought the carved ice. Heads were popping up all around us, closely followed by oilies (ideally) and ice poles. Here’s Captain Haddock braving the cold morning air to protect his lovely yacht.
That was one of the culprits
Through all this chaos, we noticed the crews on the three aluminium boats anchored about were all sound asleep! The security of a metal hull was enviable! We all survived though and as far as we know no one suffered any serious damage.
And, we made it North!!! We pulled out of Kongsfjorden yesterday and looking left and right saw the wind had eased, so we turned right and started motoring. Over the next few hours we slowly made our way past the Seven Glaciers (literally named Glacier 1, Glacier 2, etc running consecutively up the coastline).
The view in the sunshine was pretty spectacular – and the visibility up here is amazing! These mountains in the distance are at least 40 miles behind us, Spittsburgen on the left and Prins Karls Forland on the right.
Eventually we reached Magdalenefjorden, and realised we weren’t the only ones!
Everyone who’d been sailing with us round Ny Alesund had also made their way up here, all taking advantage of the change in weather. We managed to find a spot for our little boat in the midst of all the fun though. Other than an X332 that we met in Tromso (and we’re not entirely sure she made it to Svalbard as the skipper had a pretty awful gash on his leg when we saw them), we are the smallest boat we’ve seen up here. I realise quite a few people have done this trip in smaller craft (such as Alasdair Flint, explorer, sailor, climber and owner of Arthur Beales in London, who did this on his 27 foot sailboat, Soroya of Weymouth) but it is definitely a rarity compared to all the groups we’ve met.
It was pretty late when we arrived so we headed to bed until our 5:30 rendezvous with the icebergs. Fortunately it didn’t last long – actually, judging by the amount of ice on the beach downwind of us, we’d slept through most of it – and we dozed off for a couple more hours. Here’s Capt H with all the ice on the beach.
This is a fishing boat we past on the way in and D took a cool photo of…
And we can’t leave this one out – time for a swim!! Not us – we weren’t that brave…
The area we were there to see is called Gravneset. It is one of the largest burial grounds in Svalbard, dating from the whaling period in the 17th and 18th centuries. There are accounts from this era of thousands of whales in the fjords and surrounding water. Initially whalers could row out with nets still attached to the land. Whales would swim get caught in the nets and get pulled back into land and killed using harpoons. Blubber ovens would be set up on the beach and all the preparation done on site for shipping of oil, meat and skin to Europe and Russia. Unfortunately it only took a hundred or so years to deccimate the populations. Eventually the hunters had to move out of the fjords, harpooning the whales from ships. For awhile they continued to use the blubber ovens on shore, but eventually, when the populations dwindled and catches were scarce, they did everything on the boats.
Gravneset now has mounds of graves and remains of blubber ovens on the beach. These were basically just piles of rocks demarcated by ropes. The first tourists came to this area in 1836. A French traveller, Leonie d’Aunet, wrote that some of the graves had been heaved to the surface by the permafrost, lying open and empty because of the polar bears. Unfortunately as tourism grew in the 1960s and 70s, crews would write their boat name on the rocks around the graves, dig up coffins to take bones as souvenirs and burn the wood in campfires. The Sysselmannen now has a hut on site and there is someone there for four months through the summer to keep an eye on the many tourists going through. This role is incredibly sought after too – the Norwegian policeman who lives there now was saying it’s his 4th summer there but not consecutively as the waitlist is so long! It is apparently the most visited site in Svalbard. This arctic tundra is very typical of the area and apparently incredibly biodiverse! Some of the guidebooks suggest to try not to walk on it, but here it was unavoidable.
We went ashore along with everyone else of course! Even that was an adventure as the ice had gathered along the beach by this point. We had a brief look at the mounds of rocks everywhere and then went off for a bit of a hike. Unfortunately D and Captain H weren’t keen on following me up this particular hill. Here’s D pretending to wait for Capt H who was just taking his time…
We made our way around the coast to the glacier in Trinityhamna.
Then headed back to see the graves and be chased down by Arctic Terns along the beach.
Just around the headland, we had the pleasure of catching up with Guillainne and his family from Boreal, a lovely 44ft aluminium boat with a lifting keel – absolutely ideal for this area. Guillaume lives in London and also went through Alasdair at Arthur Beales to get some of his kit for the trip, making a friend in the process. He’s organised his expedition for charity, and has taken a sabbatical from work to bring paying guests sailing around Svalbard. This particularly trip though he was travelling with his lovely wife, mother(!) and three very nice (and very English sounding!) kids. I wish I had a photo of them but unfortunately I do not. I will try to post one of their boat, Boreal.