Thursday, 5 August 2010

Arctic Adventure - 5

Thursday 5th August 2010

My Arctic pictures are here.

I woke around 5.0 a.m. with the sun already high in the sky, obscured by mist. At 6.0 a.m. the information channel on the television reported our position as 76 degrees north, 20 degrees east, heading a few degrees east of north at 14 Knots. The map display showed us on course for the island of Edgeoya but we were not scheduled to arrive until around 2.0 p.m.

The morning was made up of a talk on geology, a cocktail party for passengers who, like me, were making their first voyage with Silversea and another lecture by the Ship's Photographer on taking better photographs.

In the afternoon we were scheduled to make a Zodiac landing on Edgeoya, near Kapp Lee. Because they rotate the timings for the different groups, I was not scheduled to go ashore until 4.0 p.m.

However, the sighting of two polar bears near the landing site precluded landing - the bears are strictly protected and may not be disturbed. The ship 'parked' offshore and, with the aid of binoculars, I've now seen my first polar bear lumbering around. But it did seem incongruous to watch the polar bear moving across a green field since they're so associated with ice and snow. This year, the pack ice has not come this far south.

At lunchtime, I was still on deck watching the polar bear through binoculars. I noticed that some of my American friends had decided to take lunch at the 'Outdoor Grill' and they invited me to join them. After a pleasant light lunch, I returned to my cabin to do some more writing whilst groups 3 and 4 made a Zodiac cruise to see the bear and a group of walruses.

They brought forward our disembarkation time so that by four o'clock, the fleet of Zodiacs carrying groups 1 and 2 was quietly approaching the bear. The bear was sprawled on the black rocks near the water's edge. The lack of ice had made it a difficult year for bears and this specimen didn't look very plump or healthy. It certainly wasn't moving a lot, just occasionally lifting its head.

A little way off, a single walrus was languidly swimming near the shore. There are around 50,000 Atlantic Walruses left. I hadn't realised just how big they are. They can be thirteen feet long and weigh a ton. We then moved our position to be just offshore the beach where four male walruses we lying side-by-side. They seemed fairly relaxed - one of the group would lift his head from time to time before snuggling down again. The Zodiacs then returned to the ship in convoy and we cautiously clambered onto the pontoon at the base of the landing steps.

At 18:45, there was a 'Recap and Briefing' in the Theatre by members of the expedition team. When this finished, we all trooped down to the restaurant, presenting them with a sudden surge of diners which they handled with their usual efficiency and courtesy. I was at a table with my lunchtime companions and Katerina, one of the two Bear Guards. Shore parties are always accompanied by armed Bear Guards who keep a look-out for bears and, if the various deterrents (like a flare) fail, will ultimately shoot. After dinner, I made a brief visit to the Bridge as the vessel headed north towards Palanderbukta island. The Captain has an 'Open Bridge' policy. Whilst I was there, I was joined by an English couple who have done some serious sailing and one of my American friends.Then it was back to my suite to prepare for bed although it was still broad daylight outside.