Back to base

We’re now back in the Longyearbyen fjord.  We motored down to it today, saw a few dolphins and met some old friends from afar.  And so the adventure continues, told to you by the amazing and not at all sarcastic, ME!

Everyone got up at seven, hoisted the anchor motored away into the sunrise.  Then at eleven o’clock I got up.  I went on watch at twelve o’clock, during which time we drove to an area which supposedly had walruses in it.  Not that we saw any of course.  After we stayed looking for a couple of hours we moved off in search of more interesting pursuits.  We then headed south and turned into the Longyearbyen fjord.  We then anchored, had dinner and wrote a blog piece, this will now be explained in more detail.

After my second watch, at five o’clock, I started to read facts from one of the QI books on my kindle.  These included the following little gems:  In the USA ransom payments to kidnappers, are tax-deductible, Eton college was founded to provide free schooling for poor boys, there is only one pig in Afghanistan, urea, the main ingredient in urine is used in cigarettes to enhance their flavour, US patent no. 3,234,948, held by Stuart M. Stebbings, is for cheese-flavoured cigarettes.

At one point we entered a bay surrounded by a ring of very very shallow water.  This was where live walruses were supposed to be.  We waited, and looked around, and waited, and looked around, and waited, and had lunch, and looked around, and got fed up, and left.  On the plus side, on the way out we saw a seal.  A bearded seal if Magnus is to be trusted.  No comment on that.  The seal was very cute and fat, we think we should be allowed to keep one.

Today Ellie decided to make brownies.  Three of them in fact, they were very  very nice,  particularly with custard.  We had most of one – they were the size of apple pies – for dinner and it was definitely worth the washing up that David complained about all evening.

I’m afraid there hasn’t been much to write about today, sorry about that.  Tomorrow we go back to Longyearbyen and pick up Mum and Mimi, we also drop off Barbara and Constance.  I’ll write again when something I think you should know about happens, or tomorrow.  Whichever comes first.  Probably tomorrow.  Never mind, bye.

A photograph of an Arctic trapper's cabin as it would have been in the early 1900s.
A photograph of an Arctic trapper’s cabin as it would have been in the early 1900s.
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Iceberg attack

  
Well; even more has happened since the last time I wrote, as I will tell you now. Immediately after sending my lat blog post we went to a place where there was a walrus carcass and waited there to see if a polar bear turned up. We anchored there and waited a couple of hours but unfortunately got no polar bear. After two hours Magnus noticed an ice berg floating this way. He decided that we would need to move as it was quite large and would cause some damage if it collided with the boat. We went to weigh the anchor, David was at the helm, I was ready to flake the chain as it came in and Magnus and Ellie were standing by to raise the anchor, then the windlass jammed. We tried to reactivate it but it had clearly had enough. We started to try to raise the anchor by hand as the berg floated nearer and nearer. The wind picked up, the boat rocked from side to side, the anchor raised foot by agonising foot, the ice berg drifted nearer, I started going through what I would grab before going to the life boat. Then, when the ice berg was under fifteen feet away, the windlass jerked into life and the anchor came up! We motored off as fast as we could. Magnus and David decided that we should go back to Ny-ålesund and dock for the night. We radioed ahead to a man named Nick we’d met who looked after the British research station. He was in his pyjamas at the time. Nick came out and inspected the pontoon for us to see if there was space. We reached the harbour and started to manoeuvre into a docking place. We tied up and then decided to call it a day, it was five past midnight.

This morning we got up and left immediately. We went back to the walrus carcass for breakfast and tried to spot a polar bear, we failed. We then motored on through a fjord to an even larger glacier than the one we saw yesterday, this was – while beautiful, and much much larger than any other in Svalbard – not as interesting as the one we saw yesterday. We didn’t see any bits fall into the sea, though there were puffins. On the way there we saw two whales, a mother and a calf. We managed to get a lot of pictures of these two. I wanted to take some drone footage of the glacier but as it turns out dad has nicked all the devices that had the drone app on. On the way into the fjord there was a small cruise boat which was described by all as, stylish.

Tied up next to us at Ny-ålesund was a vessel that I can only think of as a rehab boat. The vessel was called Skydancer and was owned by a charity that helped people get over drug addiction problems. The skipper was part of the crew that launched David on one of his balloon flights. Later on when we went to the shop his entire crew in there buying the shop out of soft drinks and cigarettes. The soft drinks make sense to me, they probably need something to help if they are suffering from withdrawal. Allowing cigarettes I find a bit odd. When we left yesterday the skipper gave us a Russian naval hat. I’ve taken some pictures of Magnus wearing it which I’ll send when I can.

After leaving the glacier we decided to head south through the fjord beside Ny-ålesund, which also contains an abandoned mine named London. At the same time we saw a whole school of dolphins that swam up against the boat. At the same time again the depth that the sonar showed went from over a hundred metres to five point two. This made everyone panic until we realised that it was caused by a shoal of fish passing underneath.

And thus ends another piece of waffle. Magnus has just taken a picture of me in the naval hat. Anyway, I’ll write again tomorrow, we’re seeing live walruses tomorrow. Bye.

Glaciers

  
Well; a lot has happened since yesterday, as I will now tell you. Immediately after I finished writing yesterday’s blog we had target practice with one of the shotguns. We used a piece of driftwood we’d picked up as the target and David showed us the two types of round we’d be using. There was a very large bore pellet round that is for hurting and killing bears. The second type of round was one that just made a loud noise, its purpose is to scare the bear away. We all had a go and I think most of us hit the log, I know I did.  

A bit later on we found an iceberg! We sailed around that for about half an hour and we all took many many pictures. Then we found another iceberg; this one had birds all over it. We also saw some puffins around the bergs. The icebergs were really odd shapes. The first one looked like a dolphin and the second looked like Sid the sloth’s head. If you listened carefully to the ice bergs you could here them cracking. It was really disconcerting being so close to them. I have found more and more often that I need to remind myself that this is actually really far north.

Later on in the day, at about six o’clock, we arrived at the port where we would be staying the night. It is called Ny-Alesund, it is the most northerly settlement in the world. It is really really barren but really really beautiful. It mainly consists of research stations. Oddly enough the Chinese station has two statues of lions outside the door. In Ny-Alesund it’s illegal to lock your front door because if there is a polar bear in the middle of the street, anyone there will want to get indoors as soon as possible. It’s also illegal not to carry a gun outside of the settlement. As far as history goes, Ny-Alesund was a gold mine and a zeppelin port. Amundsen started his trip to the north pole in a zeppelin from there. Ny-Alesund also has the world’s most northerly pub and post office, it has forty permanent residents and two hundred and fifty in the summer, it usually gets thirty thousand tourists per year. In the gift shop we decided to buy a polar bear for the front of the boat.

Magnus and I spent a good couple of hours walking around taking in all the fascinating sights. We saw a woman riding a bicycle down from the radio telescope, except that her bike was being pulled by huskies! I got some pictures of the husky pen and they are so cute! Later on we came across another man being pulled by huskies and as he rode by the husky gave Magnus a ride-by sniff!

A bit later we decided to have a game of Irish snap. Barbara and I had to teach Constance, David and Ellie the rules. It took a while to get going, Constance particularly had trouble with the rules. After not too long we were all enjoying it but in the end we had to go to bed before we finished the game.

This morning I wrote and posted seven postcards in the world’s most northerly postbox. They were for my parents and my siblings. The post office is also a gift shop so I also bought some playing cards, another bear and some communal chocolates. Magnus has since then adopted the larger of the two bears and I also got a book on ice bergs.

Later on we sailed to one of the glaciers at the end of the fjord. There are a lot of ice bergs up there and we managed to make a bit of a hash of Barbara standing on one! Much much later on we got to the glacier itself which is huge! We spent a long time traversing the ice bergs and taking pictures of the glacier. A couple of times huge pieces of ice fell off the glacier (while I am writing the engine just stopped and doesn’t want to restart) and created a lot of noise. The glacier was eleven hundred metres away so the noise came over a second later than the ice falling off. As we left we saw a seal lying on an ice berg. It was really cute and we all got a lot of pictures.

So. The engine has stopped, Magnus is trying to fix it and nothing much else is happening. This is the end and I will write again tomorrow when hopefully we’ll have seen a polar bear. Bye. (The engine just restarted.)

PS from Ben’s Mum – Ben’s Dad had his operation to plate and pin the broken bone today. It went well and he is fine, if a bit sleepy. Here is an X-ray of the result:

  

Sailing around Svalbard

  
We left Longyearbyen yesterday and have sailed north and then anchored. Anchoring, I found, is actually quite an interesting process. So that we could see where the anchor is, we tied a fender to the chain, which floated on the surface giving us a marker. We also attached a rope to the end of the chain to act as a kind of suspension. This means that when there is a lot of wind and we anchor, the chain doesn’t yank at the bow of the boat; the rope makes the pull softer.

Nikolay left yesterday as well, he’s going straight back on to his boat from Northabout. So, with dad and Nikolay gone, we’ve reorganised where some people slee: Magnus is now sleeping in Dad’s cabin, Ellie is sleeping in Magnus’s cabin and David is sleeping in Nikolay’s bed. This doesn’t really affect me much. We’ve received word from dad now. He’s in Addenbrookes hospital in Cambridge and is apparently doing fine, relatively speaking. He has an operation to plate and pin the break tomorrow (Wednesday 26th August). It will be three months before it is weight bearing and six months to full recovery.

Upon leaving Longyearbyen we noticed that there were a lot of seals in the fjord. I looked in the book on wildlife in Svalbard and I think that they were Harbour Seals. Actually, Svalbard’s wildlife was a big part of the day yesterday. When we are anchored, if you go outside, you have to have a good look around to see if there are any polar bears It’s slightly unnerving, having to, when you leave your house, make sure that you aren’t about to be attacked by a bear. Although we do have methods for repelling bear attacks, we have guns, obviously. Although before I this trip started I was asked by a surprisingly large number of people, but you wouldn’t actually shoot a polar bear would you?  Unfortunately the answer to that question is: if it was running towards me then yes, I would shoot a bear. However, we don’t just have guns, we have a hand held fog horn to scare it off and we have a wonderful thing called Bear Spray, brilliant! It’s just really really strong pepper spray that you are supposed to use on Polar Bears. It’s not very nice for the bear but it’s better than shooting it.

I have tied up our next mascot from Longyearbyen, it’s a reindeer. We decided a while ago that we needed to get a sign that said “defend your right to arm bears” but unfortunately we haven’t found any that say that. We have also inflated our dingy now. It’s a little red rib with a five horsepower engine, it works well enough that we’ll be able to anchor and then go ashore in the rib.

As it turns out, there are a lot glaciers in Svalbard. We’ve just motored past a blue ice glacier, it looks really weird through the binoculars. I have taken up the job of getting pictures with my dad’s camera, this means that any pictures posted from now on will be horrible and blurry.  

And welcome to the end of another example of my amazing skill in semi-factual literature. I will hopefully write another one tomorrow, I hope the tales of WBD’s (Weapons of Bear Destruction) aren’t too nasty, goodbye

Arriving in Svalbard

 
Today we arrived in Longyearbyen. It’s the largest settlement on Svalbard and houses an almighty two thousand people. It’s part mining town and part tourist attraction so the hotels are all nice and modern but there’s a mine and the houses are very utilitarian, as is the norm in Norway. We have arrived basically in the height of summer so the temperature is peaking at an amazing 6 degrees C. Right by the mine is a set of metal object that look a bit like a ski lift. Upon closer inspection they turned out to bed a transportation system to get coal in buckets to the mine hub!

I loved the journey into Longyearbyen! We sailed really close the edge of the fjord because this part of Svalbard is riddled with abandoned Russen mines. There was one bit that really interested everyone. We went to just over a hundred metres to the shore so we could have a good look at the accommodation section of one of the mines, there were five buildings still standing, a road towards the pit head and a selection of mine entrances! After we leave Longyearbyen we plan to go back and take our dingy over so we can explore it! According to Nikolay, in soviet uranium mines the life expectancy for new recruits was six months. That’s shocking, even for the Gulags. 

When we tied up at the dock in Longyearbyen everything went wrong. Dad had to get off onto the dock to tie the boat to the pontoon, but when he did he jumped off the boat. Now most of you will think about that, so what? Well, jumping off a boat is a big no-no for exactly the reason I will now state. Dad jumped off, he landed heavily on his left knee, we took him to the doctor, his leg is broken, he’s flying home tomorrow to have a plate put in his leg, he probably won’t be doing the rest of the trip. So, moral of the story is, don’t jump off boats.

We are well and truly inside the arctic circle now. To illustrate: my watches are from ten in the morning to two in the afternoon and ten at night to two in the morning. At midnight Magnus got up when the change happened between dad and Nikolay and I thought, ah he must be up because it’s lunchtime. This was midnight and I thought it was midday.

I had the option of going back to England with dad if I wanted. This option has gone away. Magnus has forbade me from going back to England because, when dad is gone, Barbara, David, Constance and Nikolay will be gone. This means that by the end of next week, I will be the second most experienced sailor on the boat except Magnus. Ha.

Thanks for all the sympathy for dad on Facebook. I’ll keep you all updated on everything. I’ll write again when I can, bye.

Why they looked like big dolphins….

  
We are now just a day away from the main town, Longyearbyen, and have been able to see Svalbard for a number of hours now. According to David it looks just like South Georgia, and Magnus says it looks like South Georgia, but less spiky. Magnus has had a haircut today, I think his head is cold now. He’s wearing a hat.

It turns out I was wrong about the killer whales. We saw them again today and actually it’s just a type of big dolphin. Oops. If I’m honest I think I could be excused for making that mistake. The dolphins have: no snout, large fins and a black and white colour, like an Orca. Anyway, I think Dad got some pictures of them this time, the difference is quite marked between the two species.

As far as light and temperature goes, you can definitely tell that were inside the Arctic circle. At midnight it looks like five in the afternoon and the temperature hasn’t got above six degrees. With this temperature sitting in the cockpit with the wind blowing in your face, you get quite cold, shockingly quickly. This means that we’re doing a system of, one person covers the deck for half an hour while the other one stays warm. And then we switch over and the other person is inside getting warm. It works quite well.

Ellie has finally surfaced, I think that the seasickness is beginning to wear off. This is good because a couple of day’s ago she made a fantastic curry for dinner and, as good as Magnus, Constance and Barbara are. Well, probably best if I don’t finish that sentence. 

The reason the temperature has been so low is that the wind has come round to the north, which is where all that nasty cold air is. This meant that for a time the ride was quite bumpy; for most purposes you don’t want a headwind. Since then the wind has died away, meaning that the day is lovely. At least I think it’s the day, yes, the clock says six pm, It’s hard to tell from the sky. Anyway, the day is lovely but still cold, we have no cloud so thats what you’d expect.

I have decide that I need a sign off for the end of the posts, and as I don’t have a sign off today I will end this piece with a question that only one person will understand. If that person gets this, please will they reply on Facebook, Instagram or twitter. Can I write up “The Camel That Came at Midnight”?

Killer Whales

  
Me and Ellie leaving Tromsø.

This is our third day at sea away from Tromsø. Quite a lot has happened in that time to be fair. Anyway, we’re two days from the tip of Svalbard and are motoring along nicely, so from the top.

In Tromsø while we were getting my flotation suit, Magnus decided to buy a typical children’s sailor’s hat, you know, a Sou’wester, like a floppy fireman’s helmet. Anyway he has used it and it has turned out to work very well, it’s also bright yellow and looks brilliant. I’ve decided to try and buy some more for the whole crew in Spitsbergen.

In Lerwick Nikolay picked up a leaflet so that he could practice reading English. This leaflet was called, ahem, “Revelations from God on the judgement of Britain” with a footnote to the effect that it included some visions on the judgement of America. The man who wrote this is a complete nutter. This leaflet was compiled from a set of dreams, supposedly sent by God, to the author and his wife which foretell of the apocalypse. He had most of these dreams in 2001, so I think we can discredit them on the basis that the world didn’t end.

Yesterday, on my watch it was boring, very boring. This was true until right at the very end, when we had killer whales. To be honest, it’s hard to miss that killer whales are dolphins, they look like dolphins, they act like dolphins. They’re just really really big dolphins.

Seasickness has hit Ellie quite badly. She hasn’t thrown up but she’s in bed most of the time. Really everyone’s feeling slightly sick except Nikolay and Magnus. Oh, how I envy them. Although I am feeling a little seasick it’s nowhere near as bad as it was on the first night.

We saw a drilling platform yesterday. It had a white and blue support vessel hovering just off its side and as we were going past it a yellow speedboat, resembling a banana, came rushing out towards us. We were all a bit confused, were we not supposed to be there? Had Magnus insulted them over the VHF? Had we accidentally kidnapped Norway’s prime minister? None of the above, they just wanted to say hi and check we were not environmental campaigners.

We have tried sailing a couple of times but the breeze is nearly nonexistent. I will now stop boring you with the events of the day, only because there are no other events of the day mind. Anyway I hope you get this last paragraph again, enjoy it while it lasts, bye.

Teenager on watch

 

We have now left Tromsø. Before leaving, we had to refuel and re-water, I was given the job of re-watering. Magnus wanted to know how much water we had used so, we timed how long it took to fill up a ten litre bucket, 12 seconds, and then we timed how long it took to re-water and I can now announce that we had used 350 out of the 400 litres we had. In light of that we’ve decided to try and use sea water instead of tap water whenever we can.

I hope you got the last paragraph on my last post. Unfortunately, just after I had finished writing it dad managed to delete that copy, meaning that I had to rewrite the last three paragraphs. However, I could only remember two of them so yesterdays piece was a bit short, sorry.

When I woke up this morning, at 11 o’clock I found the boat deserted. Everyone had decided to let me sleep while they went about Tromsø doing their various pieces of Gubbins. I greatly appreciated this as, being a teenager, I like my sleep. While they were out, Barbara retrieved various groceries, Dad and Constance went and got fishing equipment and chart software and Magnus retrieved some wedges for the winches. I don’t know what that means either.

Also, David has lost his telephone and really, you’d think that Armageddon had arrived. 

As it turns out, the shipyard Magnus was using was very very slow. We didn’t get the parts till two o’clock and when we went to refuel we went to the wrong place, of course.

It is now six o’clock, the sun is shining Ellie is making some kind of Prawn supper, my Dad is asleep and David and Barbara are on deck. Earlier we saw two rescue vessels and a helicopter rocket past, we still don’t know what that was about. This basically concludes this blog post, sorry it’s so short but I only did my last one at ten last night, I’ll write again later, bye.

  

Getting the last word

  
We arrived in Tromsø yesterday and since then have been very busy indeed. Today has been spent wandering from chandlery to chandlery, searching for various parts for the boat. We also got me a “flotation suit” which is is a life jacket and foul weather sailing gear all rolled into one.

We have been to the Arctic Museum in Tromsø, which is very good and surprisingly large given what we see on the outside. There we got a toy seal to put at the front of the boat and a rubber fish which is for separating egg yolks from the whites.

Ellie, the cook, has arrived today and says that she was expecting the boat to be in a worse condition, which is a relief. Wouldn’t want criticisms from members of the crew. Just to keep things simple we’re all going out for dinner.

Magnus and Dad have discovered the free wifi in a nearby hotel where we had breakfast this morning and have exploited this for a good couple of hours meaning that no one else in the hotel got any wifi. Dad was shifting a lot of data including drone footage.

My mother called us today and told Dad that she was worried about me. Apparently I was worryingly cheerful. I wasn’t aware that happiness was a sign of something being wrong. We rang her again and I assured her that I was in fact just happy. Shocking.

We went to a restaurant in Tromsø today which served whale meat and deer. I had some of the whale steak and there really isn’t any other way to describe its taste, it’s fishy beef. According to Magnus different parts of whales taste differently; the blubber tastes like chewy fish while the centre is almost indistinguishable from beef. Oddly I don’t find this tricky to believe.

It turns out that My Mother has been cutting out the last paragraph from all of my blog posts. I’ve asked her to stop so you should be getting everything now. Yaay.

We’re going to leave Tromsø tomorrow and I’ll write again when something of note happens. You haven’t had this paragraph before so enjoy the change; if you’re not then. Mum, I asked you to stop that, thank you. Anyway enjoy the change and GOODBYE!