Tag Archives: Ringed Seal

Dawn Chorus

This morning we awoke to a strange new sound … and when you are living on a yacht in the arctic new sounds take on a new significance. The thing is, life aboard a yacht is never quite quiet. You become attuned to all the range of creaks, groans, tappings, whistles and gurgles that are the boat talking to you – and they are all sending you a message. The wind is increasing, the waves are building, there is a loose rope that needs to be tightened … you end up learning to know the language of the ship and what she wants you to do when she wakes you from your sleep with a whisper in your ear (or a scream as sometimes happens). This morning however, we awoke to a bizarre gurgling, scraping, grinding sound that was enough to raise the hairs on the back of the neck.

Needless to say such a strange sound caused a surge of adrenalin through the system and before you could say “hungry polar bear” I was up on deck in my long johns trying to decipher this cryptic new message from our yacht “Widdershins”. The vision that greeted my eyes was a new one for me: the entire bay that we had anchored in overnight had been transformed from a calm oasis with gently lapping waves into a solid sheet of ice that had formed overnight. The view was completed by the heads of a couple of ringed seals popping out from the occasional lead to peer at the strange apparition that was gurgling and grinding away to break the tranquillity of a perfect arctic dawn.

The gurgling, scraping noise, as it turns out, was caused by the ice drifting past the hull as it was carried out of the bay with the outgoing tide. The wind was dead calm and thus grinding of the ice caressing our hull as it sought escape was the only sound apart from the occasional snort of the bemused seals looking on with sceptical eyes. The grinding ice was doing no damage to the hull of course as it was only about 1 cm thick, yet I was a little worried about the sharp edges sawing through the rope anchor line that was holding us stationary in relation to the ice. A bit of quick thinking and I had a boat hook wrapped around the rope to take the brunt of the abrasion and we could relax. I was free to take in this novel experience with a hot cup of coffee.

As I sat on deck with my hands wrapped around the mug it was again time to reflect that the season was coming to a close. The winter is fast approaching and before long this bay will be permanently encapsulated in sea ice. Definitely time to head south along with the continuous flights of barnacle geese winging overhead. We just have to wait out the next storm system passing through tomorrow and we will raise the anchor and head on.

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After an amazing first day at Hornsund with Polar bears, ringed and bearded seals we explored the depths of the fjord, where four big glaciers tumble down to the sea from various valleys. Steering through the maze of smaller and larger bits of ice in front of the glaciers was quite a challenge, and I ended up bent over the bow of the ship trying to push away larger bergy bits. Luckily Widdershins is a tough steel yacht, so fortunately the pieces I missed didn’t do any damage.

After an over-“night” trip we arrived in Longyearbyen, where showers, toilets and laundry almost seemed like luxury to us. Finally we were also able to go ashore – as long as you’re in a village you don’t need a gun in Svalbard. Luckily our papers were all in order, so registering and renting a big rifle was no problem. Longyearbyen has developed in the last few decades from being a small mining town to a more touristy center with cruise ships arriving regularly (then the population explosively doubles or triples), a large range of shopping opportunities, and there were even some pubs with nice arctic beer.

Now we’re almost ready to set off into the wild again – except we got ourselves a little additional challenge. We’ve been thinking about getting a dog for the journey for a while, and as it so happens we came across this puppy husky from a big dog-sledging farm, which was extremely shy and did not mix with the other dogs at all. So we decided to give it a try and provide him with a new home on Widdershins. So far this is a trial period, we will be back in Longyearbyen in four weeks, and if “monster” (that’s the name given him by his owner) does not like us, the yacht or the sea we’ll have to give him back. But we surely hope that he’ll open up and be our companion for the adventures to come!

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