It’s June 24 and I have been as busy as a one arm paper hanger. There are so many activities on the ship, that it’s hard to fit them all in. I woke up yesterday to find that we were in a broad fjord (Sundefjord) with some ice near the shore and large mountain peaks with glaciers in the valleys. After getting dressed I went up to the top deck to see the view and found that we were going around in circles opposite a Polish research station. The captain later told us that it was such a nice morning and because a few people were up early, he had decided to do a couple of ‘doughnuts’ to entertain us.
Like my ship to Antarctica, this ship (Academic Ioffe) is owned by the Russian Science Academy , and is chartered for six months of the year by tour companies. It has a Russian crew of 42 whom we see very little of unless we are up on the bridge. There are some housekeepers and waiters who are also Russian. We have about twelve expedition staff to look after us. The expedition leader, Hayley, is a woman from NZ.
It was a bright sunny morning and the first thrill was to see a polar bear in the distance. The ship approached as close as it could and we got to within about 500 metres. The bear was swimming and it came out of the water, climbed out onto a little outcrop of rocks, looked at us and then slid into the water on the other side. I hope that we will see more bears as we continue.
Then, just for fun, the Captain nosed the ship into some ice and we pushed through it for about half a kilometre. It was fresh ice, so it wasn’t hard and only about ½ metre thick. We could see polar bear tracks on the edge of the ice near the water and a few seal holes through the ice .
We have seen a few birds – all northern hemisphere ones that I can’t recognise - terns, kittiwakes, puffins etc. In the afternoon, we had our first shore landing in zodiacs and once ashore, we formed into different parties based on our interests and fitness levels. I joined one of the long distance walking groups that also had some time for photography. A scouting zodiac went first to check out the landing site and make sure that we wouldn’t disturb any wildlife, and most importantly, that there were no bears nearby. We had a lookout posted on the bridge with binoculars and we all went ashore in a series of zodiacs. Each party had someone with a gun accompany them.
There were some nesting terns and Skuas that we had to avoid and the the area where we landed was at an old whaling station site. All that remains is a derelict hut and a few bricks where the blubber ovens were once built. The ground looks bare – just stones and rocks, but as you walk over it, you come across a lot of small arctic plants. Most were a variety of Saxifragus and they had tiny purple, yellow and white flowers. My group walked about 2 kms to the terminal moraine of a glacier from which we could get a view over the fjord back to the ship.
It was beginning to drizzle as we turned to walk back. Over the day, the cloud had come in and the sunny morning had deteriorated to a grey and dull day. The temperature was still at about 5 degrees.