Last night we anchored in a deep bay off a glacier on the south side of Hornsund. High, barren and snowy mountains surrounded us. Secure in 15′ of water, well held in soft glacial mud, with a light offshore wind and flat water. Very snug. When we had come north along the Spitzbergen coast storm force winds were blowing out of Hornsund and it was a relief to get past the mouth of the fjord. By Svalbard standards the fjord is narrow, with high mountains and many glaciers. It is notorious for the strong easterlies which whistle out of it. This time we were blessed.
Whale bones litter the beach and there are the remains of a 19th century Norwegian station on the alluvial shore. Glacial streams flow into the bay and gave us the good, shallow bottom to hook into while I repaired the autopilot and Ian cooked a splendid pasta. Overnight we sailed down from Longybearen with calm seas and bright, warm sunlight. With 24 hours of daylight our circadian rhythms are in chaos. We realised this when, after anchoring, we relaxed over porridge and bloody marys at 6 am.
We have had a wonderful time in Svalbard dodging ice, counting polar bears, belugas and walruses, and shivering. Generally pretty ordinary weather, with low cloud, swirling mists and rapidly changing, icy winds. Our trip down from Longybearen was unusual though, with cloudless skies and mirror smooth sea. At 2 am we luxuriated in the warm sun and read.
There are numerous so-called expedition ships in Svalbard waters, carrying wealthy adventurers in matching oilskins. We saw 6 yachts, all Norwegian. It is a remote place, but you don’t feel as truly isolated as in Labrador or Patagonia.
Above the Arctic Circle (we’re at 76 north at the moment), worsening, unpredictable weather comes suddenly in mid August. I am keen to get south to the Norwegian mainland. Then it will nearly time to put Tainui to bed for the winter. After a trip out to the Lofoten Islands with my friend Farida, my plan is to lay up Tainui in Tromso, which remains ice free in winter despite its arctic location. Then next summer we will poke east along the north coast of Russia to Murmansk/Archangel, into the ice-littered White Sea.
Crew positions are still available for next summer (especially if you speak Russian!). Ian is taking a gap year, he says, but I will be lobbying hard for him to join Tainui yet again – his culinary skills are second to none and he is an excellent conversationalist, interested in everything, tireless, ever cheerful and never seasick. I have none of these qualities.