Friday 26 August 2011

Swimming At 80˚... That's Not the Temperature!

Flat calm.  Those words are a balm. It means life on the ship is a lot easier.  It means the decks are horizontal and they will stay that way. It means the water in the jacuzzi stays in there.  It means the soup boiling in the galley will stay in the pot until served.  It means walking in a straight line unless you’ve been in the Observation Lounge too long.  It means breakfast stays where it belongs.  Generally while cruising in Svalbard we have calm seas.  If you’re thinking of coming with us in Greenland or Svalbard you don’t have to be too concerned about sea sickness.
This morning at 09:30 we met in the Observation Lounge where the Captain gave a short welcome speech and introduced us to key members of the ship.  We toasted the start of our voyage with a glass of champagne.  Then it was the Expedition Leader, Karin Strand’s turn, to introduce her staff.
While all of the introductions were going on we enjoyed a panoramic view of the superb scenery in Kongsfjorden on our approach to Ny-Ålesund. The flat calm sea mirrored the surrounding mountains and glaciers.  It was a beautiful morning.
At 10:00 we walked down the gangway and assembled on the pier in language groups.  As soon as everyone was gathered, we were lead on a short guided tour of Ny-Ålesund by the Expedition Team.  After the tour, we had lots of time to explore on our own. Many people took advantage of the world’s most northerly post office to send a few post cards. There is also an excellent museum depicting the history of the mining era in Ny-Ålesund and a really good information centre with interactive displays.
At 13:00 the gangway was raised and Fram departed Ny-Ålesund. At the same time the Expedition Team organized two “boot rental shops” on decks two and three.  Anyone that wanted could rent a pair of the ship’s excellent Muck Boots for the duration of the cruise for a small fee.  At 14:30 we all attended a mandatory safety drill outside on deck five.
We enjoyed really excellent scenic cruising in the afternoon and were also able to attend a couple of lectures.  At 17:30 we dropped the anchor in Trinity Harbour.  This morning had been completely overcast but now there were blue patches of sky showing.  The glaciers and mountains surrounding our landing site at Gravneset took it in turns to be bathed in sunlight.  Speaking of bathing, many people went for a popsicle plunge.  The beach at Gravneset is beautiful soft sand.  Anyone crazy enough, er... brave enough, to go for a dip, has no fear of stepping on sharp rocks.  You can get in and out of the water in about a nanosecond.  I bet it still felt like an eternity.
The Expedition Team stationed themselves at key points of interest at this historic site.  The site was manned from the point of view of monitoring for Polar Bears but the Team was readily available to dispense information about the centuries of whaling that took place here or to answer any questions anyone might have regarding the geology or the biology of the area.
The hotel staff set up a mini-bar on the beach with a selection of hot and cold beverages available.  I am sure it was a welcome tonic to the crazy, (oops) I mean  enthusiastic swimmers.