Guest Blog – Blue Clipper in the Arctic

A personal blog by Cedric Mitchell about his time on Blue Clipper sailing from Iceland to Longyearbyen

Personal recollections of my trip on Blue Clipper – 30th May to21st June 2018

Early start on Wednesday. Up at 03,30 to catch 06.30 Easyjet to Reykjavik. Arrived half-hour early at 08.30 at Keflavik International, a modern, clan and efficient airport. My next flight was with Iceland airlines from the domestic airport, a 45 minute bus ride away.  The domestic airport is a little like a local flying club compared to Keflavik. I waited here for early four hours to catch my flight to Akeureyri in the North of the island.

Akeureyri is second largest town in Iceland with a population of around 20,000. Here I joined Blue Clipper to find that I was one of only three guest crew! Five crew, three trainees and three guests! Blur Clipper is very comfortable with luxury cabins with en suites. Mine is shared with Bruce who hails from Johannesburg. The other guest is Piers, an Englishman who lives in France.

The skipper is Chris and the first mate Emma both of whom I met in Portugal when sailing on Maybe.

Blue Clipper Iceland to Spitsbergen voyage 2018
Blue Clipper Iceland to Spitsbergen voyage 2018

Thursday 1st June

We set off up the fjord to spend the night at Olafsfjordur a very small town in an isolated fjord. We had hoped to see some whales on our journey there but sadly nothing materialised. The landscape though is stunning. Olafsfjordu is a very small town at the end of a fjord of the main waterway. Most people there are involved in fishing although this is in decline because larger fishing boats cannot enter the harbour. Our arrival obviously caused a stir as  quite a few cars drove on to the quay to look at our boat. Strangely no one got out of his or her car to have a closer look! Perhaps the most impressive thing about the town was the number of murals which have been painted.

Some of the murals of Olafsfjord
Some of the murals of Olafsfjord

Friday 2nd June

Another short hop of 30 miles to Husavjk, the whale capital of Iceland but sadly not for us. There is a wonderful whaling museum at Husavjk which I enjoyed tremendously. I had been expecting temperatures of about 10deg but both at Akeureyri and Husavik the temperature in bright sunshine rose to 17deg. As expected the sunshine lasts until at least midnight. Everything looks great in the sunshine. Husavik has a varied fleet of whale watching boats which go out most mornings. I also spotted a large sailing ship with a hot tub on the aft deck! Another interesting fact is that the Apollo space mission did their training in the mountains around the town. There is even a small space museum which unfortunately was closed when I tried to visit. Money here is rare. Almost everything can be paid for with a credit card. I have yet to spend any of my Icelandic kroner.

Photos from Husavik
Photos from Husavik

Saturday 3rd June. 

Late afternoon we set off for Jan Mayen Island which is a three day sail away and start of real sailing. About 23.30 we crossed the Arctic Circle and shortly after we discover that the temperature has dropped dramatically. The actual temperature is still above freezing but the wind chill factor is intense. From going on watch with two or three layers we now have to have four or five layers and still the cold penetrates. I am in White watch under Emma, first mate. My first watch was from 8:00pm to midnight with eight hours off then on from 18.00 to 20.00 and again.


Sunday  4th June

 from 04;00 to 08:00, This watch was incredibly cold. I was helming for an hour after which I sat in the wheelhouse for a while to warm up. On the bright side we did see two humpback whales spouting some distance away. Throughout the day we motor sailed North towards Jan Mayen Island. In the evening the sun put in an appearance though this has a negligible effect on the external temperature! On watch again at 00.00.

Tuesday 5th June. 

Arriving on deck the majestic 2700metre peak of the Jan Mayen volcano makes its appearance and gradually becomes more prominent as the watch progresses. Retired to my bunk at 04.00when we were some 18 miles from the island. Awoke at 09.00 to find the ship stationary but not at anchor. Since Jan Mayen is a Norwegian military base we need permission before we can anchor. Like everything official this takes some time to arrive!

Jan Mayen Island is roughly 2m years old and is part of the Greenland tectonic plate.  The volcano on the North island is active and last erupted in 1985 while on the Southern island there is a smaller and less active volcano. St Brendan is thought to have visited but first serious visitation was in 16thC when hunters came to hunt Bowhead whales which very soon became extinct. In 1633/34 seven Dutchmen overwintered on he island. They died of scurvy and their grave, near the harbour is marked with an inscription reading “Here rest brave Dutch men”In 1880’s the Arctic Fox was also hunted to extinction. In 1921 a Norwegian weather station was set up and in the 1930’s the island became officially Norwegian. It has a permanent population of 18 increasing to 85 in the summer months. The island apparently has important gravel reserves as well as oilfields close by. Physically the island is very productive for fish where the shore drops 200metres to the seabed and this attracts many whales of different types including blue whales.

Photos from their time in Jan Mayen
Photos from their time in Jan Mayen

We have anchored in the only sheltered anchorage on the island. After lunch we are hoping to go ashore in the zodiac. Apparently there is a tourist shop on the island (visitor numbers are roughly 200 per annum) This afternoon a zodiac trip ashore is organized. We are in two groups and I am in the second group. Unfortunately the outboard has broken down half way to the shore with the first group, so we are waiting to see what happens. Eventually the zodiac returns under paddle power and a replacement outboard is fitted. So off we go for a wet beach landing. We are met on the beach by Borge. who is half way through his six month military stint on the island. He has been married twice and has nine children. He says Jan Mayen is a holiday for him. We climb into his 30 year old military Mercedes 4×4 and he drives us to the military base where we are offered tea, coffee and nourishment. Not really a military camp, more like the lounge of a four star hotel with a superb souvenir shop. The base was built in the 1960’s and is due to be rebuilt in 2021. There are currently 18 men on the base who are mostly involved with the weather station. There is also a nurse who is on loan from an Oslo hospital. It is quite a lonely existence as there are only three ships a year and occasional flights by a Hercules. Surprisingly the occasional cruise ship also calls. It is possible to camp on the island and last year an Austrian and a Swiss came to ski down the Volcano. At one time there were Arctic foxes on the island but these were hunted to extinction in the 1970’s. 

Back on board Esmée’s dinner is enjoyed by all. After dinner we are drinking a glass of wine and chatting when a shout goes up for all hands on deck. The cause of the alarm is that Chris our skipper has taken the dinghy to go ashore and the outboard has failed.  By the time that I get on deck I can see that the bright orange zodiac has been blown offshore and is now a good half mile out to sea and fast disappearing from view.  In our Man Overboard drill (MOB) the most important action is for someone to continuously point at the casualty. The zodiac is about 3-4 metres long and coloured bright orange but from 200m distance she is virtually invisible especially if there are even small waves. To make things worse our mate Emma is not on the boat either so it falls to the rest of us to manage the situation as best we can. Raising the anchor is no easy task in an emergency especially when there is a wind blowing . Use of the main engine is necessary to push the boat forwards or backwards to ease the anchor off the sea bed until the point where it hangs vertically under the ship. After several attempts and false alarms, which takes about 15 minute we manage to raise the anchor and get the ship under weigh and proceed to locate the zodiac.

To reach the zodiacs location takes another five minutes and then a decision must be taken on which side to approach the casualty.  Fortunately Chris has a hand held radio with him so decisions can be simplified. Finally we drift down on to the Zodiac with the importance of the engine being kept in neutral to avoid lines being caught round the prop being paramount.   As with man overboard we point and keep pointing to the casualty who is becoming more difficult to see in the poor light and the rising wind. Eventually our captain is rescued and the ship is manoeuvred as close to the shore as is safe since we still have four people to repatriate to the ship. After some effort the outboard springs back into life and performs as it should do and the ship now has it’s full complement. All is apparently well that ends well! A good night’s sleep is called for.

Wednesday 6th June. 

It is now a week since I left the (relatively) warm climes of West Sussex for the sub tropical climate and bright sunshine of Reykjavik (17deg) to crossing the Arctic Circle and experiencing how cold it can be whilst bathed in the midnight sun. Jan Mayan Island is apparently usually shrouded in mist but we were very lucky to be able to watch the volcano slowly materialise in the midnight / early morning sun.

At lunchtime Chris told us that there is no wind forecast for two days so we have decided to spend another night at Jan Mayen. This afternoon we all went ashore and went beachcombing. Everything here is grey from volcanic ash and there are no animals on the island and there is a mist which hangs over the island. And yet…….there is much beauty in the island and colour too. There are no trees but mountainsides are covered in a bright green moss and occasionally there are small pink flowers. There is a fantasy of driftwood, bent into weird and wonderful shapes, some of it apparently two hundred years old and originating in Siberia.

The natural beauty in a grey landscape
The natural beauty in a grey landscape

Thursday 7th June.

Left Jan Mayen Island around 10.30 headed for Svalbard which is 550 miles away or roughly five days sailing. The sea is dead calm and the sun is trying hard to make an appearance. Chris tells us that this is ideal whale watching weather and there are many whales here…… Late morning I am in the deckhouse when a shout goes up “whale on starboard bow 50 metres!” Naturally by the time I jump on deck with my camera the whale has disappeared. Still we did get a good viewing of the Volcano glacier where it enters the sea. I have been on watch from 4 till 6pm and I am on watch again on.

Friday 8th June

00.00 till 04.00. Who knows, perhaps we will see a whale on my watch! Whales failed to materialise, probably hidden by the dense fog through which we have been sailing. Still very little wind and sea state dead calm (ideal whale watching conditions apparently)

In idle moments in the chart room I leafed through the Arctic Pilot, which among other navigational advice has a section on polar bears. These should normally be approached with great caution. Normally they do not seek out humans unless their young are at risk or they are hungry. Usually they are very hungry at this time of year. It is recommended that any shore party carry a firearm. A 12-gauge gun with heavy slug is recommended and these can be hired in Svalbard. Should it become necessary aim for the chest with three or four shots and do not approach until you are sure the bear is dead. Any shooting must be reported to the competent authorities, as Polar Bears are a protected species.

Life at an angle on passage
Life at an angle on passage

Retired to my bunk at 04.00 and slept soundly till 09.45! On early morning watch the choice is always good sleep or a doze plus breakfast. Usually a good sleep wins out! Today we are 420 miles from Svalbard.  The day passes peacefully with not much to report and no sign of a whale. After tea at 16.30 Chris tells us all about the weather which I learn specifically means precipitation. We learn about all the precise meanings of weather terminology (soon means within six hours, sea state slight means wave heights of less than 1m). In the evening I am excused part of my watch to see Master and Commander, which is being shown on DVD. Continued my watch from 21.30 to midnight and retired to bed. And so 8th June becomes…

Saturday 9th June. 

On watch from 08.00. Just manage to get to breakfast at 07.50 when the fire alarm sounds and everyone is called to muster stations on the main deck. Turns out in the end that the cause of the alarm was the toaster! So back for a quick breakfast with cold toast and coffee before going on watch. Helm for one hour then help with preparing the topsail which has to be laid out on deck, rolled into a sausage and tied with gaskets. When the sail is hoisted pulling on the sheets releases the gaskets. Then back to the helm for another hour before lunch. Today is overcast with 8/8 cloud cover and not a great deal of wind, but none the less standing at the helm for any length of time is bitterly cold. Definitely five layer clothing required!
This afternoon Piers gave a little talk about his castle the chateau Sainte-Mère. This is a medieval castle built by Edward I, so definitely an English castle but the French consider it a chateau Gascon. It dates from 1275, which is also the date of the town charter. This simple fort provided protection for the town and was used also as a summer palace by the local bishop. Piers told us how over the last eleven years he has restored some of the building to use it as a summer concert venue.

Landscape of Svalbard
Landscape of Svalbard

After dinner Chris, our skipper showed some pictures and video of an expedition to Svalbard, which he undertook under the blessing of the National Geographic Society. And so to bed in preparation for a 4.00am watch!

Sunday 10th June

200 miles or two and a half days to Svarlbard. The land of the midnight sun is at times most definitely the land of rolling fog. Cloud cover this morning is 8/8 and on the 4.00 t0 08.00 watch we had some snow. On a brighter not we did see a couple of porpoises in the medium distance but not a sniff of a whale!

Dawn Watch by Lady Di

Grey skies, grey seas,
From starboard deck
Sweet Emma’s sneeze

No loud seas or rough
The only sound
Poor Cedric’s cough

Dull clouds dull eyes
From one and all
Just doleful sighs

Four hours of this
Then beans on toast
Oh breakfast bliss

Finally on late afternoon watch the wind picks up albeit sending us in the wrong direction and with 27knots we are reaching 7.5 knots. Even the engine has been turned off. The only downside is that the wind took away my new Icelandic beanie! After dinner I don’t feel that well having had  “Poor Cedric’s cough” for over five days and decide to miss my 12 till two watch.

Monday 11th June. 

I have slept more or less solidly through from 9.00pm till 10.00am and am feeling much better for it. Changing tack during the night meant that staying in the bunk was easier. Washed and dressed I met Jamie on the companionway who offered to listen to my chest. He had a good listen and concluded that my chest sounded clear so I shall resume watches at 12.00pm Today we have less than 100mile to go to reach Svalbard so we should get there in the early hours of tomorrow morning. Looking at the electronic chart in the wheelhouse it looks like a monkey has been steering the ship for the last twenty four hours. Our planned course is approx. North East but what shows on the chart is a heading that is approx. 305deg which then veers off to 270deg and finally a tack is carried out with a new course of 65degbringing us roughly parallel with the planned course. In all we have likely steamed an additional fifty miles. None the less it was a good sail! Today we spent time unfolding the carefully “sausaged” topsail and re-folding it to be packed away for future use. Apparently the showers are temporarily out of use due to an air lock so we shall all have to be smelly fore a bit longer.

Tuesday 12th June.

 On watch at 08.00 to be greeted by my first sighting of Svalbard which is covered in snowy peaks. Entering the fjord we now have to have an iceberg watch although Chris says it is probably too early for much calving to have taken place. This is born out by the fact that it is very cold! (but sunny).

Although it had been planned to visit the capital at Longyearbyen first, the change of wind direction meant that our first day has been spent exploring Hormsund, the most Southerly of the fjords. This fjord runs from West to East for approx. 15miles. There are a number of glaciers which empty in the fjord and these can be quite spectacular. At the moment there are only a few small icebergs because the temperature is still quite low and therefore calving is less likely to take place. In the evening we anchored i9n a small inlet close to a Polish research station which we can see from the ship. Many bird sightings but not a sign of a whale or a polar bear. We have been told that should a bear attempt to climb on board (they are good swimmers) the general alarm will be sounded. After that who knows?

Wednesday 13th June. 

After a night at anchor just off the Polish research station and a much welcomed shower to wash off a week’s worth of travel we raised the anchor and set off again. Destination Horsemund, the next fjord or Longyearbyen. To reach Longyearbyen is approximately 100 miles or a day and a half. When I came on deck we did appear to be travelling in the wrong direction but this, it transpires is part of the plan. In order to avoid many short tacks along the coast we are heading out to sea in order to take advantage of the Westerly wind and we shall tack once we are able to make the fjord on the opposite tack. In Capetown they say you can get four seasons in a day, here it is quite possible to get the four seasons in an hour!  In terms of wildlife today has been almost as uneventful as previous days but…just before I went off watch at 04.00 we sighted a walrus in the medium distance swimming. Earlier in the evening we passed a Norwegian Fishery Protection Vessel steaming in the opposite direction.

On course for Longyearbyen
On course for Longyearbyen

Thursday 14th June. 

Up at 09.00, came on deck in brilliant sunshine and not a breath of that scarce commodity, wind. So calm in fact that there is no camera shake at all! We are due to arrive at Longyearbyen this evening but we are not sure whether we shall be at anchor or moored alongside as the port is apparently very small. Katie has just announced that she is trying to organise a dog sledding experience for tomorrow. Three of us walked into town this afternoon and managed to find a good supermarket and a café where they served a good beer. Back on board the ships time is changed to Norwegian so that 8.00pm is now 10.00pm (same as Johannesburg).

More photos from longyberan
More photos from longyberan

Friday 15th June. 

Up early and ready to be picked up on the quay by Lara from Green Dog. In this international world Lara turns out to be an Australian fashion designer who had a mid life career change and has been doing dog sledding for ten years. We arrive at the kennels where we bare introduced to the dogs who are mostly a mix of Greenland dog, Siberian and huskie. The fence around the kennels id approx. 3m high, which I assume is to keep out the polar bears, but no it is this high because in winter the snow reaches to within 1m of the top of the fence and all the kennels have to be progressively raised up as the snow gets deeper. The dogs are fed a mix of biscuits and fish with occasionally whale blubber if a whaler has been in port. 

The crew's Husky expedition
The crew's Husky expedition

We help to harness the dogs and attach them to the sled and then we are off at a cracking pace. Steering is no problem because the dogs know the way better than we do. Because in Svalbard it is high summer (although the temperature is barely above freezing) they overheat quite quickly and we have to stop for them to have a drink every three or four kilometres. Part of the trip is on the main road and part is o a dirt track where the dogs have a mind of their own especially if they see a small pond. From Lara our guide we learned much about Svarlbard. Coal was discovered early on in the island’s history and has been a mainstay of the economy until quite recently. However, Only Mine No 7 is still working now and employs 40 people whereas previously it employed over 400. Since the Norwegian social welfare system does not cover Svalbard those who lost their jobs were forced to go back to Norway. The result is that the economy has had to change quite radically as tourism is now the no 1 industry but takes place mostly but not exclusively in the summer months. Tomorrow for example a 6000 person cruise ship is expected to dock, Bear in mind that the local facilities support a permanent population of just 2000. By the time dinner has finished there is a 50knot wind blowing making sea conditions difficult even when tied to the pontoon. Instead we held the Blue Clipper grand quiz night which was won by Blue watch by half a point over white and red watches.

Saturday 16th June. 

After last nights storm the wind has dropped and the sun is shining.  The Expected cruise ship arrives and is berthed quite close to us. It is as if someone had built a ten storey apartment block next door. 6000 people! I can see a continuous line of people walking along the quay towards the bus station. Now I know why they have at least fifty coaches and only 50 kilometres of road! In the morning I went ashore and visited the Polar Artic museum which covers the early explorers trying to find the North Pole. The museum is packed with information to the extent that one would really need a whole day to cover it comprehensively.  There are many original film clips on display  including a comprehensive video  of the early Italian expedition.  On the way back to the boat I passed a sports shop where I found what I hope will prove to be the ultimate pair of gloves, mitten and gloves combined. We set off again after lunch bound, this time for Brattenburg which is about 40 miles distant. This is a Russian enclave that revolves around a coal mine. The soil is Norwegian but the land is owned by a Russian mining company, Trust Arktikugol.  The tax regime is Norwegian but this is largely ignored by the Russians.

Approaching the harbour the overall impression is grim. It looks like a Soviet era time capsule. The general feeling is one of dereliction. Brattenburg was founded at the beginning of the 20th century by a Russian coal mining company and the town grew in size to an eventual population of 14,000 souls with church, school, hospital and concert hall. Today just 500people live here, most of them on4 or 5 month contracts. Wages here are much higher than in Russia.

The Soviet influence
The Soviet influence

In the evening we venture ashore to explore. To reach the high street one has to climb 262 steps from the quayside to arrive outside the concert hall, a massive blue and white ”modern” building.   Further up the hill and looking rather lonely is a statue of Lenin. On the opposite side of the square is the small Russian Orthodox chapel which is quite pretty. We turn right on to the high street which runs in a straight line for at least half a mile. First on the left is the post office and next door is the school a rather drab brick building which has had murals painted on the external walls. These depict polar bears, seals, walrus etc. There are 70 pupils in the school. On the opposite side of the road is a large red and black building which we assume because of its appearance to be the mine company headquarters but we later discover that it is actually the entrance to the mine! In the distance we can see the one and only hotel and the our attention is diverted to the Red Bear Pub, brewery and restaurant which seems to have a magnetic attraction. The red Bear is open from 1.00pm to 3.00am except on Monday which is advertised as a day off. The restaurant and bar is upstairs where you are asked to remove your shoes before entering. All the beer is homemade and comes in light (as in lager), brown or dark (as in stout) It is roughly 70% cheaper than beer anywhere else in Norway at 3knr a half litre. There is also a menu with a vast array of cocktails.  There are seven tourist boats which come here every day and each one has a cocktail named after it.  Could survive till closing time and so left at 1.30am! After several beers and cocktails Barrentsburg didn’t seem like such a bad place after all.

The red bear pub
The red bear pub

Sunday 17th June. 

Four of us are due to meet Aisha the guide at the Hotel Barentsburg at 09.45.  She is going to give us a guided tour around the mine (not actually working because it is Sunday). So 262 steps later wee are introduced to Aisha who is from Yekaterinburg but has been here just three weeks so is still finding her feet. First sign an indemnity form, then she leads us back down the street whence we have just come and we enter the big red and black building which we thought was the mine headquarters. Up one flight of stairs, turn left, walk 50 metres, turn right and walk a further fifty metres then turn left and eventually find another staircase where we descend three flights to find ourselves in a small room occupied by shelves full of boots, helmets and breathing apparatus and…André our guide, an original large Russian miner. André explains about the equipment and this is roughly translated by Aisha. So we kit up but before we can enter the mine we must sign yet another indemnity form. Then we are off. We descend quite a few more wooden steps in a building that looks very 19th Century and arrive at the “garage” where all the rail trucks to carry the coal are stored. Stretching into the dark distance the rail tracks run deep into the mine. I thought perhaps we might ride on a small workers train but no we are told that the miners walk to work. So we set off on foot  down this long dark tunnel where there are periodical stops for André to explain the various  support systems for the tunnel. After several hundred metres we arrive at a closed door. André explains that this is an air lock because a lot of oxygen is pumped into the mine to help with breathing. Further on we arrive at the station where there is a parked funicular train. This is called the central human descent roughly translated as a 250 metre very steep slope. This conveyance takes the miners to a lower level where after a further horizontal walk there is a further central human descent of 250 metres to the coalface.

Coal mining photos
Coal mining photos

We retrace our steps and take a left turn to arrive in a further airlock which houses an electrical substation which reduces the electrical voltage from 3000 to 600 volts. From here the going gets tougher and there are  very few lights other than our helmet lights. We now follow a tunnel which contains a rather rickety conveyor belt which takes the coal to the surface. At one point André  stops, bends over and hands us each a small piece of coal for a souvenir. From here the going is wet and very muddy and just when I think that a mud/coal bath might be a result we pass through a door and hey presto we are back where we started an hour and a half ago. The shifts are for six hours and there are between 15 and 50 men per shift. Outside the weather is grey (rather than black in the mine)
After lunch we set sail for the Northern side of the fjord, a distance of roughly 2o miles where we anchor for the night. Whilst we have some wind for this leg it is overcast, cold and foggy.

Monday 18th June.

This morning we wake to bright sunshine and after breakfast the anchor is raised and we make for the Borebreen glacier in the hope that we might track down a polar bear. As we near the glacier we star to encounter small pieces of sea ice. The reflection of the mountains in the water is superb. As we travel around the bay fronting the glacier several tourist ribs arrive. We can see one close in to the shore and the occupants appear to be looking at something. Chris decides that a landing is possible (he has a gun) and  edges our way into the ice floe as close to the beach as possible. In the end though there is too great a risk of the ice building up around the anchor chain which would make raising it difficult so reluctantly the shore party is cancelled and we move off shore. Since the rib is in the water we are offered the chance to take a cruise around the ship which is of course an excellent photo opportunity.  Once done the sails are hoisted and we set off for Pyramiden where our ETA is 18.00.

Searching for polar bears
Searching for polar bears

We arrive at Pyramiden at 21.00 after motor in bright sunlight on a sea calm as a millpond. This is the second Russian settlement on Svalbard and named after the pyramid shaped mountain behind the settlement. It was initially founded as a small Swedish mining enterprise in the 1920s It was sold to Russky Grumant in 1926 and then to Trust Arktikugol (who also own Barentsburg) in 1931. Commercial mining was interrupted by the second world war and coal extraction did not begin in earnest till 1948. The mine operated till 31st March 1998. A monument marks the last ton of coal extracted. The workings covered over 60 kilometres of tunnels but post 1998 the whole complex was abandoned including a small town for 900 people including Soviet style apartment blocks and the most Northerly swimming pool on earth.

Once made fast most of us started a walk to the town  and the bar (which now serves tourists. Leaving the ship we passed the temporary hotel which consists of six containers converted into basic accommodation. A bit further on standing next to what seems to be a public phone we met a man who turns out to be the hotel manager. He tells us that this is not Longyearbyen and it is forbidden to walk around without a rifle because of the many polar bears. Jonah returns to the ship to fetch Chris who returns shortly armed with backpack and rifle. We continue on our way and stop to admire the Lenin monument in bright red at the foot of which is a coal truck with inscription indicating that this was the last ton of coal ever mined here.

Monument to last ton of coal in 1987
Monument to last ton of coal in 1987

Further on we come across a small herd of reindeer grazing by the roadside. Well, if they are here there can’t be polar bears around! Eventually we come to the village which consists of several 1970’s and earlier apartment blocks nearly all of which are empty. In one bock we come across a sign that says Bar and go in. In the bar two strange things; one is the welcome “We close in ten minutes!” spoken, it must be said, with a smile. The second thing is the prominent notice on the bar which  says CASH ONLY. This is the only place since leaving England where a credit card cannot be used. So beers are paid for in Kroner, dollars or Euros and I have to pay the harbour dues as Chris has no cash with him. We all have a  couple of beers and relax in the ancient leather luxury seating and Russian red plush. After what seems like only a short time…..”closing in ten minutes!” 

Industrial monuments
Industrial monuments

Tuesday 19th June

 Today is the last day of the cruise and we are slowly making our way back to Longyearbyen. First we start with a sail by cruise visit to the glacier Nordenskiobreen which is a large and pristine glacier opposite Pyramiden. The ice is a dazzling blue in colour and the ice cliff rises vertically 100 metres from the water’s edge. After this visit we set a course for Longyearbyen. . With not much wind a full suit of sail is set and we sail on a broad reach. At the end of my watch I retire to my bunk to warm up. When I get up the ship is well heeled over and we are sailing at 8.5 to 10 knots. A big change of conditions in a short time! When we reach Lonyearbyen the wind is still blowing hard and docking proves difficult particularly as each time we approach the pontoon the bow thruster stops working forcing us to about turn and try again. Eventually we are docked and securely made fast.

Wednesday 20th June. 

Final day but my flight doesn’t leave till 21.10, so first things first and packing needs to  be done. Somehow one always seems to have more to pack on the way back than on the way out! Now packed and officially off duty I spent a happy couple of hours looking around the Svarlbar museum which is excellent and gives a good overview of the history and development of the island. Piers has gone home on an earlier flight and Bruce is booked into an Air BNB till Friday. My taxi comes at 7.00pm.




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