Journey Guide: Tough Boats of the Arctic

Journey Guide: Tough Boats of the Arctic

Ian Wright travels to the high Arctic from the coast of northern Norway, working his passage on a trawler fishing for cod, before continuing his voyage searching for polar bears on a specially ice-strengthened vessel around the remote islands of Spitsbergen, otherwise known as Svalbard.  Ian’s journey starts in the northern Norwegian fishing port of Tromso, more than 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle.  From here, aboard the fishing trawler Hermes, he travels 300 miles further north to rich fishing grounds near remote Bear Island.

With 18 crew on board, the Hermes can catch and store up to 450 tons of fish in its freezer before needing to return to port to unload.  Before the fish are frozen, the heads and guts are removed in the on board fish factory, where Ian helps out.  It’s a tough job, with the crew working shifts, 6 hours on, 6 hours off, 6 hours on, 6 hours off, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for weeks on end, often in rough seas.  Ian struggles to keep up with the hard-working crew, and has to admit he’s not much of a fisherman, but all the time he has plenty of laughs, keeping spirits high.

Travelling 300 miles further north from the fishing grounds around Bear Island, after 5 days at sea the Hermes drops Ian off at the very remote islands of Spitsbergen, where he transfers on to a small but beautiful, 1950s-era Arctic cruise ship, the Stockholm, which is taking just a dozen or so passengers around the islands in search of polar bears and other Arctic wildlife.

Travelling on past extraordinary Arctic landscapes, with huge glaciers descending to the coast from towering mountains, the Stockholm finally reaches the edge of the Arctic pack ice on the northeastern coast of Spitsbergen.  Here, and on the return journey round the northern coast of Spitsbergen, a spectacular variety of Arctic wildlife is spotted, including a polar bear catching a seal pup, an arctic fox raiding seabirds’ nests for eggs, a large group of walruses, and finally a rare and extremely close-up sighting of two polar bears, a male and a female, on the ice together.

Climate / When to go

April/May/June: with plenty of sea ice and lots of snow on land, spring is the best and most beautiful time of year to visit

July/August – summertime’s warm weather, and family school holidays, makes this the most popular time of the year to visit

Travel

Getting there:

Scandinavian Airlines SAS & Norwegian Airlines both have regular flights from the Norwegian capital Oslo to the main settlement on Spitsbergen/Svalbard – Longyearbyen.

Boat Time Tables:

The fishing trawler ‘Hermes’ does not take passengers.  There used to be a passenger ferry from mainland Norway to Spitsbergen, but these days the only regular year-round boat transport to Spitsbergen is provided by the container ship Norbjorn.  99.9% of the Norbjorn’s function is to carry cargo to Spitsbergen, but occasionally it also has space to take a handful of passengers as well.  Check with Bring Cargo, Norway www.bring.com

PolarQuest Expeditions, based in Gothenburg, Sweden (www.polar-quest.com) is one of the best and most experienced of all Arctic expedition companies, and is very highly recommended.  PolarQuest organizes Arctic cruises around Spitsbergen on a variety of vessels, all of which are comfortable and equipped to a high standard, but the Stockholm is undoubtedly the most historic and beautiful vessel in their fleet.

Must See's and Do's

Dogsledding
Snowmobile Safari

Tromso, Norway: Polar Museum
Tromso, Norway: Polaria Arctic Experience Centre

Longyearbyen: Svalbard Museum
Longyearbyen: Spitsbergen Airship Museum
Northern Lights (winter)

 

 

Place to Stay

Svalbard Hotel, Longyearbyen (www.svalbardbooking.com)

Useful Websites

1. Northern Norway Tourist Board: www.nordnorge.com
2. Visit Tromso: www.visittromso.no
3. Visit Svalbard: www.visitsvalbard.no
4. Norwegian Polar Institute: www.npolar.no
5. Governor’s Office, Longyearbyen: www.sysselmann.no
6. PolarQuest Expeditions: www.polar-quest.com
7. Spitsbergen Travel: www.spitsbergentravel.com

Useful Books

1. Svalbard (Spitsbergen) Bradt Travel Guide
2. Spitsbergen (Svalbard): A Complete Guide around the Arctic Archipelago, by Rolf Stange
3. Tourist Map of Svalbard (highly detailed with annotations) www.escargotsavant.fr

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