Expedition Stories

Our fleet navigates the world in search of adventure. These are the stories they bring back…

Previous Reports

Daily Expedition Reports

8/11/2011

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National Geographic Explorer

From the National Geographic Explorer in the Arctic

Murmansk By 7:30 am this morning we had calm seas and grey overcast skies and a temp of 45F. We then entered the mouth of the Kola Peninsula on our way to Murmansk. We passed by fishing boats, which surrounded National Geographic Explorer. Also we were able to see nuclear submarines, many guests commented on this extraordinary event having lived through the cold war themselves. The vegetation on land covered the hills in a green color, but we could see that this is the end of the northern hemisphere summer. During the night we had made good speed so we entered the pilot station earlier than expected. The reason for our second visit was to clear from Russia after visiting Franz Joseph Land. As we passed along the fjord we could see many examples of soviet architecture as we took two hours to make our way with the pilot to the berth in Murmansk, all the while witnessing the Rowan trees along the shore with antennae and navigation aids as well. Along the shores there were more and more merchant vessels and ice breakers. As we went alongside the pier the rain continued to pour down, which was similar to the weather to our first visit. The short bus trip to downtown Murmansk offered us a few hours to shop for souvenirs and walk around and get an impression of a city and Russian people in transition. From a closed communist country to a capitalist society in just 20 years. New shops, colorful advertising, lots of fresh vegetable from exotic locals, designer brand clothing from Europe, lots of foreign cars: BMW’s, Fiat, Mercedes to name a few. These were just a few of the new things for me as a visitor back in the eighties. This is a very interesting time to visit an ice free port that lies north to the Arctic Circle; a place in transition. After clearing out of Russia, we steamed north full speed back into the Barents’s Sea. Heading for another visit to Spitsbergen Island. A journey that will take about 48 hours.  

Daily Expedition Reports

6/26/2012

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National Geographic Explorer

From the National Geographic Explorer in the Arctic

Hinlopen Strait We awoke this morning to gleaming sunshine as we rounded the northern shores of Spitsbergen Island. Brilliant blue skies, a light wind and a gentle sea carried us into our anchorage in Sorgfjorden – “the Fjord of Sorrow,” site of a brutal 17-century naval battle between the French and the Dutch. Lingering snow still covered much of the landscape, but on walks ashore we found patches of open gravel that revealed nesting eider ducks and Arctic terns. Three reindeer, still in their slightly tattered winter coats, ran across the tundra, while a line of fresh polar bear tracks let us know that although no bears were visible, they regularly patrol these shores, left behind by the retreating pack ice. Some of us, exploring the beach, stumbled onto the enormous skull of a bowhead whale, once common here but extirpated by early whalers. During lunchtime, the National Geographic Explorer turned into Hinlopen Strait, the broad passage that divides Svalbard’s two main islands: Spitsbergen and Nordaustlandet. Then word came from the bridge: bears had been spotted on the shoreline –– a mother and young cub crossing a snowfield, headed towards the beach. Everyone grabbed their coats and cameras and rushed to the deck to see the first polar bears of the trip. This was quickly followed by an unexpected surprise: a third bear, a huge male, sleeping near the shore, apparently having scavenged a meal from an unknown carcass. Male polar bears can kill young cubs, and as soon as the mother saw him, she immediately retreated. It was a thrill not just to see these handsome animals, but also to observe their wary interaction. Continuing down the strait we arrived at Cape Fanshawe, where hundreds of thousands of thick-billed murres crowded the narrow ledges on towering cliffs in a spectacle of motion and sound. It was like a gigantic avian city, the sea and sky filled with birds. And finally, in the evening, we poked into the glassy waters of Vaigattbogen, a wide bay backed by a massive glacier. Although most of the sea ice has gone around the islands, this area still has a broad expanse of intact ice, which proved to be a magnet for polar bears. By the end of the evening we had seen no less than five more bears, all patrolling the ice in search of seals. The highlights of the evening included a curious bear that approached very close to the ship, to the sound of thousands of clicking shutters, and another that tried, in vain, to ambush a resting seal. But, in the end, the show was stolen by a second mother and cub pair. In a moment that few of us will ever forget, the mother swam across a narrow channel, carrying her baby high on her back. Finally, near midnight, we sailed north again at the end of an extraordinary Arctic day.  

Daily Expedition Reports

7/17/2012

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National Geographic Explorer

From the National Geographic Explorer in the Arctic

Northeastern Svalbard We were about to finish a truly memorable day of exploration. We had been sailing close to the ice edge for hours in search of wildlife. By the end of a long day six polar bears had been spotted. We had seen pack ice in abundance, changing visibility and varying light. We had observed ivory gulls and a number of other seabirds, and a Zodiac cruise towards Storøya in the late evening had resulted in a stunning encounter with gamboling walrus on all sides of our Zodiacs. We had enjoyed inspiring lectures on photography and Svalbard´s natural environment, and we had been treated like royals by the Hotel Manager´s Viking team, serving hot chocolate as we chilled in the Zodiacs in search of wildlife. It was by all measures a perfect day in the High Arctic. On the way back from the late evening´s excursion to the waters near Storøya I asked the guests in my Zodiac what had been their favourite experience of the day. Two answers were as presumed. Some of the guests pointed to the sight of the polar bear who had been performing totally relaxed in all kinds of postures close to the ship. Others claimed that the groups of walrus gamboling in the water around the Zodiacs had been the ultimate highlight. But one answer given by a lady from the southern hemisphere caught me by surprise: the SNOW! A sudden shower of wet, sludgy snow had been hitting our chilled cheeks as were watching the walrus near Storøya. Snow showers occur now and then at this latitude, even in July. Experiencing this phenomenon in the middle of the Arctic summer was the true highlight for this lady. Her statement was a reminder of different perspectives. Experiencing the high Arctic is much more than watching polar bears and walrus. The incredible round-the-clock light, the variety of marine mammals and birds, the tiny, colorful flowers struggling to bloom in the harsh climate of the tundra should all have our attention. Of course we get fascinated by the sight of a full-size polar bear on the pack ice, but we should certainly appreciate the beauty of this pristine environment and all its components—even a snow shower in July. Our great encounters with pack ice, polar bears and walrus will definitely be remembered from this wonderful day. But at least one guest from the other end of the world will go home with a strong memory of falling snow in July.  

Daily Expedition Reports

8/7/2012

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National Geographic Explorer

National Geographic Explorer in the Arctic

Circumnavigating Milne Land in Scoresbysund, East Greenland At six o´clock the National Geographic Explorer pulled anchor at Ankervig (Anchor Bay) and set course towards Rypefjord, which is located at the northwestern side of Milne Land. Some early risers were already in place with cameras on the observation deck. A variety of icebergs under a sunny, blue sky were mirrored by a perfectly calm sea. As breakfast was finished, a great number of guests went up to the bridge or came out on deck to view the magnificent fjord scenery on our way to the first landing of the day. Binoculars were actively used to spot wildlife as we cruised along Rødefjord (the Red Fjord). A few muskoxen were detected in the far distance. Only a glaucous gull here and there and a couple of seals were observed from the ship. However, floating icebergs and colorful rocky slopes alternating with a number of glaciers and waterfalls provided magnificent views of a pristine fjord landscape. Quite a few of the glaciers are so-called hanging glaciers which have lost much volume. This proves that there has been a substantial melt-off over the last decades. Most of our guests went ashore for hikes at the peninsula between Rypefjord (Ptarmigan Fjord) and Harefjord (Hare Fjord). The long- and medium hikers pushed uphill, whereas some guests enjoyed staying closer to the beach. We were blessed by the same warm weather that we had enjoyed over the last few days. We could therefore take off layers and walk comfortably even with shorts and a t-shirt. Just above the landing site we found the skull and also a complete skeleton of muskox. A few birds were spotted: ringed plover, a number of snow buntings and northern wheatear. One group of hikers observed 17 barnacle geese and three pink-footed geese on a small lake. Two muskoxen were spotted in the far distance behind the lake. After lunch the ship cruised through narrow scenery in Øfjord (the Island Fjord). This is a long fjord between Renland and Milne Land. Øfjord was discovered and named by Carl Ryder´s expedition 1891-92 during the exploration of the Bjørnøer islands in September 1891. There are no islands within the main stretch of the fjord, and the name derives from the Bjørnøer group of islands at the fjord´s northeastern end. We were told that in 1963 some 27 muskoxen - 10 males and 17 females (all calves) - were caught with lasso in the area where we hiked. At first these animals were transported by a cargo ship to Copenhagen where they stayed through the winter and then were shipped to Kangerlussuaq in West Greenland, which at that time was a US air base. In the afternoon National Geographic photographer Cotton Coulson and Global Perspective Guest Speaker David Wright gathered those interested in video for a video editing session: how to set up a good workflow, starting the edit, constructing the sequence and how to share your masterpieces with friends and family. The evening recap included talks on photography, glacier dynamics and an introduction about Scoresbysund (Ittoqqortoormiit), an Inuit village that we plan to visit tomorrow. Our head waiter Pepe welcomed us to a special Phillipino dinner which was much appreciated. The day was completed with one more outdoor activity at Sydkap (South Cape) in the late evening. Most guests preferred a Zodiac cruise in between huge icebergs, whereas some chose to go ashore for a short hike. The hikers found two huts just above the shoreline. The oldest hut was built as a cabin to be used by polar bear hunters and also for fishing Arctic char. The big house on the shore was built around 1958-60 by a Danish couple in Scoresbysund for the purpose of going fishing and enjoying life. They planned to spend a year there, but did not make it, because the lady thought it would be too lonely to stay in such a remote place. The little hut needs substantial repair, whereas the big house seems to be in good shape. This house is open and is mainly being used by locals from Scoresbysund village. During the late evening the ship sailed into Hall Bredning (bay), and we could see a big number of huge icebergs from the inner part of the Scoresbysund fjord system. The distance from the mouth of Scoresbysund via Hall Bredning to the western point is 313 kilometers, a continuous stretch of water credited to be the longest and deepest fjord in the world. Today we felt extra fortunate to be aboard this year´s first expedition cruise ship to zig-zag between icebergs through such beautiful, narrow fjords in East Greenland.  

Daily Expedition Reports

8/11/2012

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National Geographic Explorer

National Geographic Explorer in the Arctic

Vestisen (noon position: N72o41/W011o02’) We have now departed eastern Greenland and are working our way northeast for Svalbard. Between lies the famous Vestisen (Western Icefield) which is the out-push of dense and hard sea ice (multi-year ice) from the Arctic Ocean into the north Atlantic. The area is called Fram Strait, named after Nansen’s famous ship Fram, which was used for his ice drift expedition 1893 - 96 to confirm the existence of the deep frozen Arctic Ocean. By midnight we started our transition through the heavy sea ice. It turned out to be very dense, and with thick fog we were forced to sail south to try to get around. By the morning most of us woke up in a different way, not our expedition leader’s wake-up call – instead it was the ship banging through heavy ice again. Now our captain was trying to push east and get through the ice field. We are encountering much the same conditions as Norwegian sealers would have seen every spring from February to May, as they came here to catch the harp and hooded seals. The conditions the sealers had to deal with was often broken-up sea ice, mainly imbedded in fog. This is a major breeding area for both seal species. By breeding on the very edge in loose sea ice far out in the ocean they can avoid predation by polar bears. Vestisen was known to be rewarding if you were successful with your seal catch but also very dangerous. If the area got hit by severe storms and small seal boats were deep inside the ice, many never made it back to mainland Norway. Last time this happened was in 1952 and in one single day, during an extremely severe storm on April 3rd, five sealer boats with 46 crew disappeared. Through the time period 1926 -1940, 101 sealer vessels were shipwrecked. After WWII, as new technology had been developed, the figure dropped to 29 from 1946 – 59. Still a dangerous adventure for providing your living. Still, the drive for Norwegian sealers was great to go west from mainland Norway every spring. In 1965 it was 65 vessels hunting seals and the catch counted to 140 000 animals, which was regarded as poor! From the 1850s to 1990s sailing from coastal Norwegian towns like Tromsø and Ålesund for catching seals was a major income for many families. Exact numbers of seals slaughtered will never be known but we can assume it’s in the millions. At first it was mainly the seal oil which was the reward, later it became the skins. Nowadays only a few state-subsidized ships sail west every spring, because of several anti-sealing campaigns. Brigitte Bardot, together with Paris Match and the Marine Mammal Protection Act 1972 in the U.S. very much put an end to the industry. It became unfashionable to have a seal coat! This area also has a strong interest for World War II historians as it was used to provide the Soviets with military equipment from the Allies to maintain the Soviet forces to fight on the Eastern Front. About 40 major Arctic convoys sailed between Iceland to Murmansk or Archangel, or vice versa, during WW II. The cloudy and foggy conditions during summer made it hard for German air reconnaissance to keep track of the fleet and hiding inside the loose pack-ice was a way to escape the submarines constantly following and attacking the convoys. By noon we had made thorough the Vestisen and at last were able to set our course north. Through the day we had several presentations and additionally our hotel manager with his galley crew served reindeer kebabs with a glass of red wine on the back deck. After dinner Tom Ritchie kept us entertained with stories from the past. His career with adventure travel started way back with Lars-Erik Lindblad, onboard the little red ship Lindblad Explorer. Maybe every voyage creates one story and over the years many good stories have accumulated. For sure many of the current staff on board were mentioned. Interestingly, as we now leave Greenland and continue to sail north for Svalbard, a remarkable American Arctic explorer turns up on the navigation chart for northern North Atlantic: Louise A. Boyd Bank (N72o40’/E003o00’). In 1960 she was the second woman ever to receive the Cullum Medal of the American Geographical Society and the first woman to be elected to their board.  

Daily Expedition Reports

6/2/2013

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National Geographic Explorer

Hidra, Norway

Starting our expedition up to Svalbard, Norway, spending the morning in transit sailing north across the Skagerrak, a strait running between the southeast coast of Norway and Sweden, famous for its mackerel and herring fishing. Mid-day the waves and breeze kick up, as we enjoy the open ocean scenery, spotting fulmars and gannets flying just above the cresting waves. We also spot the ferry boats carrying passengers back and forth from Norway and Denmark. Along the way our natural history staff is introduced and right after lunch we host our first photo talk with break-out sessions, a great way to help our guests prepare their cameras for the upcoming expedition. We continue heading towards our afternoon landing spot, the small southern Norwegian fishing village on Hidra, called Kirkehamn, on the largest island in the county of Vest-Agder. Once we are cleared to land, we take the Zodiacs in and make our first landing into this quaint and sleepy fishing village. The overcast skies break and allow warm sunshine to illuminate our landscape compositions. Along the shore we see the old and modern fishing receiving stations sitting idle on this Sunday afternoon, where fishing boats still come in and drop off their catch. The village is an old Norwegian fishing and farming community, with a couple hundred inhabitants. The village is surrounded by tall slopes of oak trees, heather, and flowering yellow primrose. We are in the northernmost region of the Europe’s rich vegetation Nemoral zone, comprised of oak and maple trees, lacking the well-known boreal species such as Norwegian spruce and gray alder trees. During our early summer walking tour, we see flowers everywhere in bloom; tulips, lilacs, and azaleas. The Flekkefjord landscape is protected by the Norwegian government, since it represents a successful recovery program bringing back the old heathland heather, accomplished during the last ten years by diligent and persistent burning and sheep grazing land management techniques started in 2005. In the center of the village, we visit Kirkehamn, “Church Harbor,” a small quaint Lutheran church. Today, many of the small wooden houses painted white are owned by city people who have made their money in the successful Norwegian oil industry, commuting over the mountains from Stavanger, Norway’s oil capital city. Our landing has been a great way to stretch our legs, and enjoy this special Nordic way of life. It’s quiet, tranquil, and enjoyed by all. Just before returning to National Geographic Explorer , our Norwegian hosts at the landing site have prepared hot coffee and rich vanilla cakes. This landing is a contrast, green and lush, to what we will encounter in Svalbard, ice and snow.

Daily Expedition Reports

6/13/2012

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National Geographic Explorer

From the National Geographic Explorer in the Arctic

Hinlopen Strait area of Svalbard Today was a day for the wildlife junkie. From birds to seals and walrus to bears, it was a feast of critters from early in the morning until late in the evening. Barely having time to pause to eat, there were incredible opportunities for observation and photography. We started early and finished late but why not? Here in the land where the sun will not set for quite a long time. Starting at the bird cliffs at Cape Fanshawe before breakfast, we were instantly overwhelmed by the abundance of life in this area. Hinlopen Strait is the narrow body of water between the two largest islands in Svalbard. The bird cliffs consist of mainly two species, Thick-billed Murres and Black-legged Kittiwakes, but there are probably over 100,000 pairs of each. Deep water allows for a close approach, so wide angle or telephoto were both appropriate, and hundreds of images were taken. This was only the beginning. During breakfast our first bear of the day was spotted, and then quickly a second. The second bear disappeared in some ice, but some blood on the ice targeted the spot where it had just finished eating a seal. After a short nap, it wandered around a bit, posing beautifully above a reflecting pool for quite a while. Ivory Gulls buzzing around overhead added to the excitement. The search continued and a mother and cub at about four miles were a challenge, but then another bear was spotted. This bear was hunting a seal, and we watched as it just missed a meal. We continued watching as the bear put on quite a humorous show, swimming, falling through the ice, and rolling around. A few more bears were also observed during lunch, all situated in front of a stunning blue glacier. As we attempted to move on, a couple of large walrus were spotted. One male with great tusks allowed for a close approach. Hundreds more images were snapped as he didn’t seem too concerned with us at all. We finally made it out in order to have a late afternoon nap. However, our day was not finished. After dinner, we were back at it, to continue our wildlife extravaganza. A walrus haulout made for an excellent end to a sensational day. Short walks led to a pile of walrus on a point, and we all returned onboard, just before a new day began, hopefully with many more incredible sightings like today.  

Daily Expedition Reports

7/10/2012

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National Geographic Explorer

From the National Geographic Explorer in the Arctic

Hinlopen Strait, East Svalbard What an unbelievable day in the Arctic! Anticipation mounted as we hoped to search for our first polar bear later today, but first we anticipated a landing at Kinnvika in Murchisonfjorden, on the remote island of Nordaustlandet. The wooden buildings there once housed an 18-month international collaboration for the 1957-58 Geophysical Year, towards an understanding of global climate patterns and changes. But the Arctic had other plans for us—in the form of a beautiful female polar bear who came sauntering in full view along the shoreline in search of food, full of youthful curiosity. She sniffed the air, swam across a small inlet, and rolled in the snow, before eventually disappearing over the distant horizon, as we watched entranced from the ship. While we repositioned a little further south in Hinlopen Strait, Jason Kelly presented an overview of the geological and glacial formation of Svalbard. Then, on the east coast of Spitsbergen we came to Alkefjellet, that great horizontally-stratified sea-cliff where a hundred thousand Brünich’s guillemots (thick-billed murres) congregate to breed. The sky above was black with their wingbeats, as they went to and from their narrow ledges where their mates kept watch over speckled eggs. After lunch Elize offered a comprehensive introduction to the biology of the polar bear and soon, in Bjornsund, we got our first glimpse of sea ice. Sure enough, there was a large male, frozen in concentration as he waited at a seal’s breathing hole. We soon saw that bears were everywhere—mothers with one cub, mothers with two cubs, all hunting for seal. And then the most unexpected events unfolded before our eyes. One old, large, battle-scarred male had a carcass of a young beluga whale. He furiously started to consume it as a very hungry mother and cub tried to get near, only to be chased off. Then two more bears, attracted by the smell of blood, approached from across the ice to try their luck, each time being repulsed by the larger bear. We watched transfixed as five bears acted out the drama of the battle for survival before our eyes, while the pure white ivory gulls picked at the crimson entrails. A privilege indeed to come to this world of ice to witness first-hand such behaviors in such a setting.  

Daily Expedition Reports

7/29/2012

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National Geographic Explorer

From the National Geographic Explorer in the Arctic

Shetland Islands Today we visited the second of our countries on this voyage to the Heart of the Arctic. We visited the British Isles, but, if you ask the locals of the Shetland Islands, which they simply call Shetland, their connection with Britain is only recent and does not represent the true nature of the place. Shetlanders consider themselves much more closely tied to Scandinavia that to Britain or Scotland. Their language is called Norn and is a version of old Norse. Although the last Norn speaker has now passed on, the language remains in most of the place names of the islands and certainly in their collective memory. Even their flag, which carries the light blue and white colors of the Scottish flag, displays them in the slightly off-center cross of all the Scandinavian flags. We made our first stop in Shetland at the isle of Noss where we had opportunities for walks on the rolling hillsides of the island and up to the towering bird cliffs on its east side. The great skuas, or “bonxies” as they are known in Shetland, nest on the flat grassy areas of the island, but on the bird cliffs, thousands of northern gannets and guillemots nest on narrow ledges formed by the Old Red Sandstone. As the gannets fly to and from the bird cliffs to feed their chicks, they are regularly attacked by skuas who sometimes drive them right down to the water in their effort to make them disgorge their crop full of fish. We also encountered many puffins carrying sand eels back to their chicks waiting in the burrows dug by the adults in the hillside. On the rocks near the shore were hundreds of fledgling gannets waiting to fly off to sea to make their way on their own. They have been abandoned by their parents at this stage and must figure out how to fish and migrate south with no parental advice or example. In the afternoon we tied up alongside in Lerwick, the capital of Shetland and had time to visit the town and enjoy its shops and tea houses. We stayed in Lerwick through the night so some of our shipmates sampled the nightlife of the town as well.  

Daily Expedition Reports

8/10/2012

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National Geographic Explorer

National Geographic Explorer in the Arctic

Myggbukta, Eastern Greenland Our last day exploring eastern Greenland is a glorious one. We start the day with one final landing, knowing full well that the National Geographic Explorer will be heading out into the pack ice this afternoon on a course north then east toward Svalbard. We go ashore at the site of an historic Norwegian radio and weather station, in an area called “Hold with Hope.” Named by Captain Henry Hudson, this reportedly is the oldest place name appearing on maps as far back as 1618. The bay itself is called Myggbukta, or “Mosquito Bay,” no doubt for good reason, as there are vast ponds and wetlands spreading out across the soggy tundra as far as the eye can see. Lucky for us there is a mild breeze blowing, so the pesky insects are not too bothersome. The weather station is of historical interest, having been constructed in 1922. Tragically, the team of men that built the first cabin never made it home to Norway, their ship lost at sea, presumably trapped and crushed in the ice. The station was manned continuously between 1926 and 1942, dismantled during WWII. Operations resumed after the war and continued until 1959. Since then, it is used intermittently by trappers and scientists, fully stocked and maintained for emergencies. Surely through the years it has saved many lives, providing shelter during snowstorms that can last for days in this part of the world. If there’s one animal that brings back visions of the Ice Age, it’s the musk ox. Its contemporaries back in the Pleistocene included woolly mammoths, mastodons, and saber-tooth tigers, all of which became extinct about 10,000 years ago. The last remaining indigenous populations of musk ox are here in Northeast Greenland National Park, having been heavily hunted in other areas. Musk ox are funny looking animals, with long shaggy hair obscuring their short legs, making them appear as dark boulders at a distance. Up close they have large horns, which the males use during the rutting season. The musk ox is a nervous animal, probably because of hunting by man and predation by wolves. Amazingly, they can smell you from a great distance and will scamper off if you are upwind, but they eventually circle back as if curious. We had some excellent views taking our time, and with extra effort to approach from a downwind direction. We also encountered numerous skulls and skeletons scattered around the tundra, each surrounded by a garden of arctic wildflowers. The cycle of life continues here in the far north. Back on board we enjoyed a relaxing afternoon at sea crossing the Fram Strait, that is, unless you are the captain. Navigating through the pack ice takes great skill and years of experience. Using ice charts and satellite images, Captain Skog and his officers plot a route to avoid the greatest concentrations of multi-year ice. Even then, the ship shuddered from time to time when we had no choice but to slowly navigate through stringers of pack ice drifting down from the vast Arctic Ocean not far to the north. Adventure. An expedition is all about adventure and exploring the unknown. What will tomorrow bring? Please stay tuned…  

Daily Expedition Reports

8/12/2012

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National Geographic Explorer

National Geographic Explorer in the Arctic

Greenland Sea Although it is generally (though arguably) accepted that it was the Dutch navigator Willem Barentsz who first discovered the island of Spitsbergen in 1596, today found the National Geographic Explorer following in the wake of Englishman Henry Hudson and his ship the Hopewell some 405 years ago. Henry Hudson had been hired by the Muscovy Company to try and find the Northwest Passage to Cathay (today’s China) on a route above the Arctic Circle. After reaching the northeast coast of what is now known as Greenland, Hudson was forced by ice to give up the quest for the passage and turn east on the 22nd of June, 1607. Here is Hudson’s entry from his ship’s log from June 25th of that year: “The five and twentieth, the wind scanted and came up at north north-west; we lay north-east two watches, 8 leagues (readers will of course recall that a league is equal to roughly 3 nautical miles). After the wind became variable between the north-east and the north, we steered away east and by north and sometimes east; we had thick fogge…This night was close weather, but small fogge (we use the word night for distinction of time, but long before this the sunne was alway above the horizon, but as yet we could never see him upon the meridian north.) This night, being by our accompt in the latitude of 75 degrees, we saw small flockes of birds, with blacke backs and white bellies, and long speare tayles. We supposed that land was not farre off; but we could not discrie any, with all the diligence which we could use, being so close weather that many times we could not see sixe or seven leagues off.” In fact Hudson was only halfway to Spitsbergen and would not sight the island until June 27th. Unable to see the sun for a navigational fix, Hudson pushed on, continually changing course to follow the fickle whim of the fast ice edge. And so it was for all on board the National Geographic Explorer today, as the “fogge” came in thick and then lifted, offering brief but tantalizing glimpses of the pack ice edge. At around midday we too were about halfway between Greenland and Spitsbergen, but of course we are armed with the latest ice charts (downloaded from the internet), radar, GPS, and forward-looking sonar to guide us safely through the ever-changing ice front in even the densest fog. How Henry Hudson would marvel at our ability to safely (and quite comfortably) maneuver through this temporary obstacle. Hudson, along with his crew of 10 men and one boy, safely reached “Whales Bay,” today known to us as Kongsfjorden, on July 14th, 1607. He later pushed on further north along the western side of Spitsbergen, only to be forced south again and eventually back to England, reaching Tilbury Hope on the Thames River on September 15th. Tomorrow should find us in that exact same fjord system, after a safe, but “fogge-filled” passage. Thank you Henry, for showing us the way!  

Daily Expedition Reports

6/3/2013

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National Geographic Explorer

Bergen, Norway

Early this morning, National Geographic Explorer slowly sailed into the major port of Bergen, Norway. This is the second largest city in Norway, and has, since medieval times, been competing with Christiania (nowadays Oslo, the current capital) to be the main center for trade, maritime activities and culture in Norway. In Bergen they also speak Norwegian with their strong western dialect, very different from Oslo. In 1909 the railroad between Bergen and Oslo was inaugurated, but with the high mountains separating Bergen from the rest of Norway, even today it really lives its own life. Bergen is also climate-wise very different from most of inland Norway, with a Gulf Stream sweeping just outside, which gives very mild winters but also cool summers. Significant for the Bergen area in early June are the rhododendrons, now in full bloom. Nowhere else in Scandinavia are they found as high, lush and rich as in Bergen. During medieval times Bergen was already established as an important trade center by the Hanseatic League, with its base at Lübeck; they were trading dried cod from from northern Norway though Bergen and throughout southern Europe and beyond. The rich fishing grounds for cod north of Bergen, especially at Lofoten, and the possibility to dry this fish, made it into a major commodity for trade with the Catholic world further south in Europe. Many days to fast but the head of the church, the Pope, realized people needed food every day, and decided dry fish was to be regarded as “cold meat” and was free to consume during fasting days. The market was endless down south and the fishing grounds, in the north, were extremely rich. The export of dry fish still continues to this day. Bergen, with its sheltered harbor between the seven mountains, was an ideal spot to become a trade center for the Hanseatic traders. In the afternoon some of us were able to walk through the oldest parts of Bergen, the Hanseatic city, to enjoy this UNESCO cultural heritage site with its old wooden buildings. Those in search of nature went up to the mountain with the funicular railway to first overview the city with its protected harbor before heading off on a nature walk. Some of us then walked back down to the city along winding paths, enjoying the wild flowers and birds along the way. The bird song was delightful and the early summer flowers were in their prime on this warm, sunny summer afternoon. Others enjoyed a stroll in town to visit the busy fish market. The harbor was also busy with boats and ships of all shapes and sizes, ranging from huge passage ships, supply ships for the most important industry in Norway, oil and gas, and small ferries and pleasure craft. In front of us was a nice old sailing ship and behind, a new type of supply vessel equipped with a very strange bow, called Ulstein X-Bow, used in the oil and gas industry. Walking along the waterfront for sure gives a maritime flavor that many former major shipping ports have lost today. In the morning we all did a tour around Bergen, including the central parts of the city and a visit out to Trollhaugen (the home of Edward Grieg, the famous Norwegian composer). We were also able to visit a very interesting stavkirke (church). In Norway, as early Christianity arrived around 1000 AC, wooden churches were built all over the area. All our local guides were keen to explain the local details of Bergen, and the important people with strong connections to the city, but they failed to mention the people who probably affect our lives the most today. We now all rely on good weather forecasts; much of the science of meteorology was developed more than 100 years ago, The Bergen School of Meteorology, established by Vilhelm Bjerkness (1862-1951) and later his son Jacob Bjerknes (1897-1975) made the base for understanding how weather systems develop. Bergen, with its constantly changing weather patterns, was ideal for studying how weather fronts sweeping in from the North Atlantic or cold polar fronts met warmer air over the continent. Or in a more scientific way, ” the dynamics of the polar front integrated with the cyclone model, and provided the mechanism for north-south heat transport in the atmosphere .” Jacob later emigrated to the U.S. and finally ended up in California and was part of the team to establish the UCLA Department for Meteorology. At 6:00 p.m. our local Norwegian pilots, who will takeus out through the fjords as far as Tromsø, arrived and we left our docking site beside the old fortress, Bergen Hus, with its famous watchtower, Rozenkrantz, to sail for the midnight sun. Time to explore the fjords of Norway and head NORTH! Photos by Sisse Brimberg & Cotton Coulson and CT Ticknor.

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