Tough Boats of the Arctic

In this programme host 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 on a specially ice-strengthened vessel around Spitsbergen, the world’s northernmost inhabited islands, in order to search for polar bears.

Ian’s tough Arctic 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.

Apart from its rich wildlife, Spitsbergen has also played an important role in the history of Arctic exploration, and along the way the Stockholm visits a number of fascinating sites used in the past as jumping-off points for expeditions to the North Pole, just 750 miles or so further to the north.   Roald Amundsen, the first person to reach the South Pole, in 1911, took off in an airship from Spitsbergen in 1926, and in the process became the first person to reach both Poles.  Amundsen’s expedition was amazing enough, but on extremely remote Danskoya Island Ian also visits the site of a truly remarkable attempt to reach the North Pole in 1897 by a group of Swedes travelling in a hot-air balloon.  Needless to say the trip ended in disaster – the balloon crashed, and everyone died.

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.  The ship’s ice-strengthened bow carves a path through the frozen ocean until it can travel no further.  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.

All in all, Ian’s spectacular journey across the Arctic Ocean from Norway to Spitsbergen is a once-in-a-lifetime experience never to be forgotten.



With thanks to:

‘Hermes’ – fishing trawler

‘Stockholm’ – tourist cruiseboat

Northern Norway Tourist Board

Visit Tromso

Visit Svalbard