Leg 3, 2001: Spitsbergen, Bear Island, Spitsbergen, Norway
Thursday, July 12, 2001, 0200 Madalene 79.34N, 11.02E
Tuesday, at noon leg 3 crew arrived
and following orientation we sailed from Longyearbyen, into cold
rain, west along Isfjorden spending night at glacial anchorage
of Trygg at the north entrance of Isfjorden. We opted for an
early start in the morning with the goal to push north 130 miles
to 80 degrees. On leaving the protection of the 50-mile long
Prins Karls Forland which flanks the NW coast of Spitsbergen
like a spare rib, the 18-knot NW winds with opposing current
weren't in our favor and as we motorsailed north several of our
new crew quickly succumbed to seasickness. By midnight conditions
all round weren't improving so we ducked on to Magdalene Fjord,
at 2am to recover with a tranquil night at anchor.
Mac trying on survival suit
Magdalene Fjord, Spitsbergen
Thursday, Sallyhamna 79.49N, 11.15E, Log 44,448
John and Amanda exploring ashore at
Magdalene Fjorden with the always-present rifle.
Hot showers and a pancake breakfast did wonders to restore crew
spirits. Visiting ashore at Gravnesset we hiked to the Dutch
whalers' graves from the 17th and 18th century and chatted with
Hans and Jan the Sysselmannen Patrol while Mahina Tiare sat at
anchor with the dramatic Waggonway glacier behind. Back onboard
we started safety class until the Europa cruise ship arrived,
assembled its landing wharf, proceed to tow it ashore (in the
large bay) and then promptly crash it into us. Class dismissed!
When another cruise ship, Polar Star, crackled over the radio
with it's announced arrival, we definitely decided to head north
in search of walrus for Mac. After scouring the shoreline along
Smeerenburg Fjord we ended up with a negative on the walrus hunt
so opted to look for polar bears instead.
Sevin sharing smoked leg of lamb with MT's
Last week in Longyearbyen we heard from a Dutch steel schooner
that they had seen polar bears feasting on a beached dead beluga
whale a couple of miles from the old trapper's cabin at Sally
Harbor, where our Patrol friends, Sevin and Arild were stationed.
We decided we needed some latest news so arrived at Sally Harbor
as the dinner quiche was ready and called Sevin and Arild on
the radio to invite them for dinner. Good News! They were bursting
with stories of their polar bear sightings, 64 since we had last
visited them. As we demolished dinner we listened to their accounts
of the numerous bear visits at their cabin, one particular young
male was very inquisitive and they had to fire the signal pistol
to scare it away. Another male proceeded to stand up and peer
in the thin plexiglas window just as Sevin had been heading out
the cabin door without a gun to answer a call of nature, Arild
had been in talking by radio with Hans at Magdalene reporting
on the day's events. Hans claimed that being at Magdalene has
it's advantages as they get to have showers and meals aboard
the visiting ships, and they even had strawberries aboard Europa.
But Arild responded that their remote cabin with no cruise ships
visits but 64 polar bears sightings amounts to more than the
number of showers and dinners aboard cruise ships the Magdalene
crew have had.
Arild piloting MT to polar bear feeding
Polar bears feasting on dead Beluga Whale.
This time the guys were prepared for their visit to Mahina
Tiare, and brought towels and soap and didn't hesitate for a
second when we offered them hot showers. Afterwards, we asked
if they would like to come with us aboard MT to look at the bears,
and they eagerly said yes. Arild piloted MT through some shallow
rocky spots and suggested how close we approach the whale before
anchoring, so as not to stress the bears. We immediately spotted
five very full and uninterested (in us) bears, too good to believe!
Arild pointed out the bears they had been watching for the past
week, an old female with two new cubs, a three year old male
sleeping in a snow hole, and a mother (with a dirty neck) and
her two-year old. There was not a lot of bear activity as they
seemed more interested in sleeping than eating the whale that
was almost under water in the high tide so we decided to return
in the morning when the tide was low.
We were eagerly up at 0500am to go polar bear watching and
our morning activity was worth the effort as mum and cubs were
leaving the whale to a lonesome two year old who was busy tugging
away at the white blubber that resembled a hunk of discarded
chewing gum. When we were thinking about abandoning our viewing
in lieu of breakfast two suave two-year olds boldly strolled
down the rocky foreshore. Mother and cubs quickly moved from
their sleeping spot to higher ground and one little cub stood
on its hind legs to better view the passing procession. These
two fellows wasted no time pushing out lonesome bear and proceeded
to tear away at the stringy whale with playful shenanigans. We
continued to watch the bears until the cold drove us into more
activity so we decided to sail north to 80 degrees before returning
to Sally for breakfast.
80 º North, again!
Friday July 13, 2001 0830 79.59 N, 11.54 East Log: 44,468
Baro: 1010 Close reaching at 8.1 knots in 15 kt easterly winds
Check out this latitude! We crossed 80 degrees north, just 600
miles south of the North Pole, for the second and final time,
and smartly gybed south, toward our final destination of Hilo,
Hawaii. It seems like a long time ago that we left Victoria,
Canada, although it was 16 months and 16,000 miles ago.
Ecstatic crew, mission accomplished and
After a late celebration breakfast we departed the far north
with a short stop in Magdalene and a Saturday night pub visit
in Ny Alesund. We had interesting chats with the research base
assistant director and some of the scientists who wandered down
to the dock after seeing us arrive. Being Saturday afternoon,
we weren't sure if we'd be able to purchase fuel, but the young
harbormaster returned from a glacier hiking trip in his Zodiac
just before a small local ship arrived, and we were able to top
up our tanks.
Barentsburg - Russian mining settlement.
Sunday Barentsburg Departing Ny Alesund at 0500 we continued
south under a resplendent sun in flat slate-gray seas that shimmered
and danced with ripples when little auks and guillemots took
fright as we passed. In the afternoon a west breeze blew in allowing
us to sail the last few hours across the mouth of Isfjord to
Barentsburg, the last remaining Russian coal-mining town in Spitzbergen.
Approximately 900 Russians live in this collective community
with a shared canteen and wages paid in Russia on the day they
return home after completing their two-year contracts. The view
from the water of tumbledown buildings, huge piles of coal tailings
cascading down the cliffs, black smoke belching from the power
plant and piles of rusting, abandoned equipment is a stark contrast
to the smart colorful Longyearbyen.
As we tied to a small jetty we were greeted by two guys who
were eager to engage our attention and promptly asked if we had
coins to exchange for ruples. We offered what foreign money we
had and they swapped handfuls of notes, coins and tin commemorative
Jenny on Barentsburg Wharf.
We chatted with three children standing by who spoke good
English. Jenny was 12 and had been living in Barentsburg for
a year, her father was an engineer at the mine and her mother
worked at the animal barns. Eager to explore town we set out
with the intention to meet at the hotel for dinner. 0n the way
up the numerous flights of wooden stairs to the top of the hill
we passed Jenny playing in the grass lawn outside her wooden
two storied house that she her family shares with 3 other families.
View of Barentsburg from the piggery.
Reaching the top of the stairs we strolled the concrete block
roadway past the massive brick sports complex and along a row
of a hodgepodge brick and ornamental wooden two-storied buildings
that sprawled along the hilltop. Huge colorful propaganda billboards
sporting smiling attractive workers dominated the building facades
giving the town a distinctive Russian flavor along with the Lenin
monument in the towns square.
Forward, brave workers!
Gathering at the rustic hotel bar, also home of a Norwegian
pay card telephone, we discovered there was no dinner menu that
evening but we enjoyed a relaxing time sipping hot drinks and
sampling the assorted Russian chocolate for sale. After a tasty
fish taco dinner onboard we went in search of the animal barns
and met Jenny who offered us a tour. The soft brown eyes of the
lovely jersey cows peered quietly over stalls and the pigs, of
which there were hundreds, were organized into age groups and
sexes, and noisily pressed their noses at us. Jenny affectionately
named the mother pigs as we passed noting which ones loved their
piglets and which ones ignored them.
Barentsburg Piggery - the world's northern most!
We particularly liked the Babe piglets but the millions of
cockroaches crawling about in the heated pig barns left us with
an uneasy feeling.
Lindsay trying on Russian hat at hotel.
For the evening we decided to anchor out in the bay rather
than listen to the squeaking jetty and rumbling generator.
Lindsay and Paul clowning around.
Monday Bellsund We retied to the jetty in the morning and
dashed about town to take pictures, phone home and visit the
museum. It explained the history of Russian activity in Spitsbergen
with early archaeological artifacts, details of the Pomor trade
routes and a geological exhibit on coal mining.
Barentsburg Harbormaster building.
There are rumors from the Norwegians that Barentsburg's coal
operation is not profitable and that their equipment is falling
into dangerous disrepair and many believe that the only reason
Russia holds on to the decaying anachronistic community is solely
for political and territorial purposes. However the people we
spoke to including Jenny said that they much preferred living
in Barentsburg to Russia or the Ukaraine.
Over the past few days we've been juggling weather reports
to determine our departure date for Tromso. Unable to receive
steady Inmarstat-C coverage due to the high latitude and mountains
we've been playing information tag with Commanders' Weather who
we've hired for the crossing to Norway. Conditions don't look
promising for us to depart until Wednesday due to heavy wind
conditions (gusts to 50 knots, seas 18'-20') so we'll continue
coast hopping south and hope for a report when we're clear of
the mountains. In the afternoon we motored 65 miles south in
calm seas to Bellsund and anchored in a retreating glacial bay
on the south side where last week Taonui and Trait de Union were
visited by a swimming bear that tried to climb into their cockpits.
July 17, 2001 Tuesday Calypsobyen 77.31N, 14.33E Log:
Whalebone on Calypsobyen Beach.
Lone arctic fox, Calypsobyen, Bellsand
Our morning was thrown into a bit of bother when the forward
head became blocked so it was quickly decided to go for a crew
trip ashore while John changed the oil and worked on the toilet.
Yesterday on our way to the anchorage we'd seen a few shacks
on the beach flying a Polish flag so we thought we'd go investigating.
Ashore at Calypsobyen we met two welcoming Polish geology scientists
who made us coffee and showed us their cabin and laboratory explaining
that another two scientists were out studying the glacier. The
Northern Exploration Company from London originally built the
cabins for a coal mining operation in 1918, and gold miners,
whalers and trappers later occupied them. Remnants of their exploitations
were visible along the beach and made interesting viewing in
the early morning fog. The polar bear that had visited our friends
yachts had also paid a call to the scientists food storage cabin
and although he was extremely selective in what he ate he had
still made quite a mess. We were relived to not share the beach
with a polar bear, but instead, two arctic foxes that came scampering
about looking for food.
Back on MT John had changed the oil but the head was still
blocked. After some twisting and turning of handles, pumping
and grunting of pumps (we pressurized the holding tank with the
dinghy pump) there was not an easy solution, so John pulled off
the discharge hose and pried at the blockage with a long screwdriver.
In a thick fog we said farewell to Bell Sound and headed out
to sea not knowing if we would be going 60 miles to Hornsund,
or carrying on 450 miles to Tromso.
July 18, 2001 0930 78.45N,
16.24E Log: 44,857 Baro: 1022
Motorsailing south, 8 kts ESE winds, calm seas
On receiving a flurry of forecasts from Commanders' Weather
(www.commandersweather.com) that forecasted 30-40 kt, gusts to
50 kts and 14'-20' seas for our arrival at Vannoy Island, 40
miles north of Tromso, we decided to leave on the 460 mile passage
yesterday (Tuesday) anyway. The good news was that the winds
were forecasted to be NE or E, meaning a fast broad/beam reach,
while waiting a few days to depart would result in strong SE
to S winds when another intense low roared over the British Isles
and pushed north.
As we left Spitsbergen behind, in mellow conditions, we could
still see Sorkapp and the southernmost glacier on Spitsbergen,
50 miles off in the distance, 20 hrs after departing Bellsund.
We all took turns catching up on sleep after our non-stop activity
and shall never forget this amazing place, the people we've met,
or our thrilling adventures.
Here's our adventuresome Leg 3 crew:
Leg 3 Spitsbergen hearty crew, on arrival
in Tromso, Norway.
Mac Taylor, 53 is a vascular surgeon and prof at Oregon
Health Sciences University in Portland. He and his lovely wife
Catherine sailed with us in Alaska in 1999 and are considering
buying a Sceptre 43 soon for some coastwise cruising.
Bob Franke, 48 sailed with us from Cape Horn to Antarctica
and back in 1996, as well as from Tahiti to the Cook Islands
in 1997. Bob is a telecommunications specialist working for the
Salt Lake City Olympic committee who races his Capri 30 with
Heidi on Great Salt Lake.
Mariusz Koper, 40 sailed with us from Auckland to Tahiti
on a very rough passage in 1999, and that didn't put him off
high-latitude, high-adventure passagemaking! Mariusz divides
his time between Warsaw where he owns a textbook publishing company
and Toronto where his family is. He will be ordering an Oyster
49 for long-distance cruising this Fall.
Lindsay Lessig, 49 is a CCU/ICU nurse who loves sailing
and adventure and lives aboard a Saga 43 (which they purchased
from Mike Locatell, one of our 1995 Cape Horn crew) with her
Paul Lessig, 60, at Shilshole Marina in Seattle. Paul
is a cardiologist and they are interested in cruising to lots
of exciting places on their Saga. Paul and Lindsay met while
working at an army hospital in San Francisco. They won the SF
Big Boat Series on their J-35 in 1996.
Claude Richter, 47 divides his time between Luxembourg
and Dunedin, N.Z. Claude is a retired translator who worked for
the European Union and is now keen to gather sailing skills for
his own future adventures.
July 19, 2001 2200 71.34N, 19.14E
Log: 45,128 Baro: 1016, falling
Broad reaching in 25-30kt NE winds at 7.2-8kts under triple reefed
main and triple reefed jib
We have 81 miles to Torsvaag, the closest harbor in Norway
to Spitsbergen. Commanders' Weather has revised the wind speeds
in their forecast, down slightly to 26-32 knots, gusting to 40
for 0200, four hours from now, and it's looking accurate. Our
winds have built steadily during the day as the barometer has
dropped from 1023 to 1016. The seas are confused, and will get
rougher as we approah the shallower water close to land. Mahina
Tiare is handling the seas like a champ, with continual sail
reduction but we're looking forward to hot showers and relaxing
once we make Torsvaag.
Safety and Exhilaration
by Leg 3 expedition member Lindsay
The Commander's Weather
forecast for our crossing of the Barent's Sea was detailed and
accurate (as we proceeded to confirm with reality). There was
a wonderful element of magic to me relating to their ability to
be so precise for our planning purposes. With their frequent updates
responses to our questions, it felt comforting that we had faraway
friends looking out for our well being.
John and Amanda thoroughly
discussed our situation with us and went over our various options.
Taking everything into consideration, it was an easy decision
to take off when we did!
Our journey of 150 miles
to and past Bear Island was smooth sailing as anticipated and
we continuously were happy to have been spared heavy weather till
late in our passage. The true excitement came in the last 1/4
of the passage 100 miles from coastal Norway. Surfing the waves
in winds from 25-35 knots was exhilarating! I was wishing for
Beach Boys' music (or Victory at Sea) to blast from out of the
stereo. We continuously talked over and executed methods to manage
the winds (reefing the main, reducing headsail, etc.)
As the barometer dropped,
the seas became more organized, steeper and higher. The heaviest
weather I saw on my 0400 watch was gusts up to 49 knots in steep
and breaking 15-20 foot seas. Steering became extremely challenging
and exhausting! I felt fortunate that I evaded a small bout of
seasickness (with the help of Dramamine and/or Compazine) till
right after my dramatic turn at the helm. It was also good to
be with two very experienced sailors who vigilantly guided our
I honestly can say that
I am extremely thankful for the experience, although I was tremendously
glad when we were in safe harbor at Torsvag! The preparation,
anticipation and vigilance for safety exhibited are forever "gifts"
from the Barent's Sea for me. This was a crystal clear reminder
of why we joined this wonderful sailing opportunity!
Thanks to you both, Amanda
In the last 15 miles before
arrival at Torsvaag the seas moderated, and the wind dropped to
20-25 knots, possibly because we were out of the North Cape current
which was up to 1 knot, directly against the wind. By 1030 we
were safely (and happily!) anchored in Torsvaag. We saw no sign
of whales being winched ashore for processing, in fact through
the rain and wind we never saw any sign of life, other that one
moving truck. After a huge late breakfast of huevos rancheros,
and hot showers, we slept for most of the day, had dinner and
then went back to sleep!
The following morning, Saturday,
July 21st, we had a fast sail, gybing downwind in up to 25 knots
to the small town of Hanses, where we stopped for lunch and exploring
before sailing on to a favorite anchorage of ours, 8 miles from
Tromso. Claude and Mac landed a bucket full of cod fish, we had
a relaxing evening, then hit the teaching hard in the morning,
with trips to the masthead to learn rigging inspection, instruction
on sail repair and an anchoring seminar.
Yesterday, Sunday, we completed our
expedition instruction before motoring in flat seas under brilliant
skies into Tromso, where crew treated us to a fun dinner ashore.
It's hard to believe we're now back after five weeks and 2,350
miles of fantastic adventures! Tromso is a changed town; snow
has been replaced by trees sporting long leafy limbs (we don't
recognize streets anymore) colorful and abundant street stalls
line the sidewalks, plus all the University students are displaying
buff belly buttons. Such feasts for ice weary eyes!