August 14th - Smeerenburg - Virgohamna - Sallyhamna

We awoke to find we were moving to our next destination as we weren't able to land at Magdelenefjord because of the polar bears. We continued north to Amsterdam Island and Smeerenburg (Blubber Town), an old Dutch whaling station established in the 17th Century.

We were all taken by Zodiac to the island where we were given a guided tour by Christian, the historian, and Hans-Peter, the botanist.

There were lots of Arctic Terns gracefully flying about and landing close to us. The Arctic Tern has the longest migration of any creature, flying from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back every year.

There were guides, with rifles, posted some way away from us to keep an eye out for polar bears. We were shown the remains of blubber ovens where the whale oil was extracted.

There was a plaque that detailed the history of the settlement.

We spent about an hour on the island and then took a Zodiac back to the ship for lunch.

In the afternoon the Zodiacs took us all to to Virgohamna, on the north side of Danish Island, a short distance from Amsterdam Island. Here are two of the Zodiacs heading for the island passing a Swedish yacht that was cruising through the islands.

Virgohamna is an historical site that required a permit to visit. It was a whaling station and had graves of whalers that had become exposed because of  permafrost heave. There were the remains of three ovens from the 17th Century. We had to be careful not to step on the graves as they were on a path that ran through the centre of the site.

It was the site of several unsuccessful flights to the North Pole by balloon or airship. In 1896 the Swede, Andree, tried by balloon and then the American, Wellman in 1906, tried by airship. The site became a tourist attraction as the expeditions were being prepared. A giant wooden hangar was built for the airship and we could see the remains of the timber structure scattered on the rocky shore.

When the structure to house the airship was built in 1926, it was the largest wooden structure in Europe. It was an amazing feat to build such a large building so far north.

There were piles of rusting iron filings and drums that transported the sulphuric acid. Both were used in the production of the hydrogen that filled the airship. There were also piles of broken clay pipes that transported the hydrogen to the vessel.

It was a scene of total dereliction. Colleen, the archaeologist, gave us a very interesting and informative guided tour of the site.

We saw several purple sandpipers feeding on the shore. Apparently these are quite rare.

We returned to the ship and attended a lecture and briefing. At the briefing, Robin West explained how our schedule could change, depending on weather and sightings. He told us that the Polar Quest expedition ship had reported that a group of polar bears had been seen not far away. Our dinner was brought forward and we went out in the Zodiacs to find the bears.

Our Zodiac was driven by the captain.

The ride to shore took about ten minutes and as we approached it, we saw a group of five adult bears and one cub.

The bears were feeding off a whale carcass that was submerged near to the shore. One of its giant jaw bones was on the shore. There was one bear in the water which did several dives coming to the surface with chunks of whale meat in its mouth.

A bear on the shore fighting to get the meat from the bear in the water.

One of the bears had a radio collar which had been put on it by research scientists who are monitoring the bear population of Svalbard. We sat in silence watching the bears as the snow started to fall. The baby bear stood underneath its mother for protection.

It was a memorable sight and the captain said it was the best polar bear sighting he had ever seen. We were there for about 45 minutes and then we had to return to the ship to let more groups see the bears. We all had a drink to celebrate the sighting of the bears.

When everyone had returned to the boat, we headed north to the pack ice and some ice cruising. As we went to bed, we reached 80 degrees, only about 600 miles from the north pole.

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