It all happened so quickly. One minute (about 1am) we were all sat around the table drinking with Guillaume and Muriel from the yacht Boreal, and the next minute (about 3am) Major S had arrived and F & Dr D had left for their plane to the UK!
Whilst F&D were flying south, Major S and Capt’n Haddock got some shut-eye ready for an early-ish start the following morning. The early start didn’t quite happen and it was 10am before we headed into Longyearbyen to show Major S the sights. This turned out to be a quick walk along the main street in the drizzle followed by a coffee in Rabalda. Then it was back to the boat for a safety briefing before slipping lines and departing Longyearbyen.
There had been some chat amongst the other boats of an approaching gale. This was backed up by the grib files we downloaded. It looked like we would get 30 knot winds within 24 hours and the possibility of it getting windier after that for a short period of time before dying off again but with stronger winds again after that. The trip from Longyearbyen back to Tromso was about 600 miles or 5 days sailing, this meant we were likely to have to endure some strong winds but hopefully we could shelter at an anchorage on Bjornoya (about halfway) for the worst of it. We decided to head to Bjornoya.
Here’s a screenshot of a Grib showing the gale we were keen to avoid.
We had heard that a female polar bear and her two cubs had been sighted in Trygghamna a few days before so we visited this fjord and it’s neighbour, Ymerbukta, on our way out of Isfjorden. This also gave Major S his first experience of sailing near ice as we had the chance to get up close (but not too personal) with a glacier. Capt’n Haddock spotted a cruise ship leaving Trygghamna so called them up on the VHF to ask if they had seen any polar bears. They had, although apparently the female and her cubs headed north into the mountains, we headed in anyway but much to our disappointment there were no signs of the bears. Here’s Major S getting the token glacier shot.
As we left Isfjorden and headed down the coast the wind died away completely and we were left with glassy calm conditions. Not great for sailing, but a good way to get our sea-legs and settle into the watch system. With only two crew on Hal we had to run a reduced watch system which meant three hours on watch followed by three hours off watch compared to the two on four off system previously. Longer on watch, less time off watch… great!
We did get the chance to take some pictures of the ever elegant puffins!
And yet more massive glaciers…
We motored through the night and following morning until we reached Hornsund, the southerly most fjord system in Svalbard. As Capt’n Haddock was keen to reach Bjornoya before the worst of the weather hit there wasn’t time to go ashore, however we motored to the Polish research station at Isbjornhamna and then to Gashamna both near the mouth of the fjord.
We could see another ship further in the fjord so called them on the VHF to ask for a polar bear sighting report but they hadn’t seen any. However Capt’n Haddock did spot some PB tracks – well he’s convinced that’s what they were….
We left Sorkapp, the most southerly part of Spitsbergen to port and started sailing south and towards Bjornoya 130 miles away, still with flat calm conditions. We knew it wouldn’t last…
Within a few hours we were sailing in strong conditions with a double-reefed mainsail and about half of the genoa. Hal was taking the 30 knot winds in her stride and we sailed at 6.5-7.0 knots directly towards hopeful shelter at Teltvika, a little bay on the north-west corner of Bjornoya. Capt’n Haddock spotted a minke whale on this leg.
At around 6pm we were ten miles out from Teltvika when the wind increased to 40 knots. This was due to the effect of the island disturbing the general airflow. This was accompanied by an increase in the swell to about 3m. We dropped the sails to motor the last half mile into the relative shelter of Teltvika only to find four other boats already hunkered down. Closest in was Celene, next was Rabalda and furthest out was Jennifer, a 50ft Beneteau we had seen on AIS and spoken to on the VHF on the journey from Svalbard. The fourth boat, Timbuktu, seemed to be anchored precariously close to the rocks.
The west coast of Bjornoya only has two tenable anchorages and Teltvika is by far the most sheltered. However as three boats were already settled in, there wasn’t much room left for us. So we decided to try the alternative anchorage, Landnordingsvika, 7 miles down the coast. Unfortunately this was even worse and after encountering winds of more than 55 knots, Hal was back in Teltvika within the hour.
At the second attempt, Hal’s anchor held and Capt’n Haddock was happy – well as happy as he could be anchored with 40 knot gusts, a large swell and rocks 500ft behind us. Hal swung through a large arc around the 45m of anchor chain as the wind shifted with each gust. This made transits on the shore relatively useless so we reverted to monitoring the track on the chart plotter to see if we were drifting. It appeared the anchor was holding.
That night was spent eating (we’d eaten pretty much nothing during the day), listening to weather forecasts from Bjornoya Radio (the only inhabitants of the island are at the weather station) and chatting to the other boats via VHF all the while keeping an eye on the chart plotter. We reverted to two hours on, two hours off whilst on anchor watch and got some well needed rest.
The wind continued throughout the following day but did eventually start to ease. After lots of VHF chat, four of us decided to make a dash for Tromso a further 300 miles south. This was despite the forecast of strong winds again as we were approaching the coast and a 3m swell. Here’s a picture of Celene, Rabalda and Jennifer taking shelter in the mist just inshore of Hal.
We were the last of the four boats to leave but rather than head directly towards Tromso we snuck along the coast. This was primarily to see the spectacular coast but it also kept us out of the not insignificant foul tide that the other three boats were experiencing further offshore.
The wind around the southern tip was light but with a large confused swell and the last bit of land was lost in the mist.
The 48 hours to landfall near Torsvag about 50 miles north of Tromso was tough. Especially tough as we were sailing double handed. The winds rose consistently over the passage and we had 40 knots again. finally died off just as we sighted land so we completed the last few miles with full sail in beautiful blue skies.
The wind off the land felt unbelievable warm having been blasted by frigid air for the past few weeks and soon the temperature on board was above 20 degrees. A stark contrast to 4-6 degrees that we’ve been used to.
Torsvag was the first suitable harbour that we passed but it seemed rather commercial so we continued on to Grunnfjordbotn. This was a beautiful anchorage at the head of a small fjord on the island of Ringvassoy and totally sheltered from the local winds that were funneling through the fjords.
Capt’n H had the best night’s sleep for ages and had his batteries fully charged for the final day heading back to Tromso. After another beautiful anchorage for lunch found by Major S we tied up alongside the gjestehavn pier in Tromso, the same pier that we had left four weeks earlier.