Friday 19 August 2011

Samarinvågen with Bears!

Landing site at Samarinvågen

Today was a day filled with interesting activities on board Fram and a grand adventure on shore.
Glacier beside landing site.
Starting at precisely 09:30 we held a safety drill which is compulsory for all passengers to attend.  When we heard the ship’s alarm signal 7 short followed by one long alarm we put on warm clothes and headed to our muster stations outside on deck 5.  Even numbered cabins assembled on the starboard side and odd numbered cabins went to the port side.  Every single person was checked off on a passenger muster list.  Once everyone was in place we watched a crewman demonstrate how to put on a thermal protection suit and a life vest.  We learned that the life jackets and protection suits were stored at our muster stations.
Immediately following the drill we rendezvoused in the Observation Lounge where the Captain gave a short welcome address and then introduced us to some of the key personnel of the ship.
Karin Strand, the Expedition Leader then introduced the nine members of the Expedition Team.  It was interesting to note that these nine people were from seven different countries!
Mother Polar Bear with cub
At 10:30 we were invited by boat group to try on a pair of Muck boots.  For most of the landings we would be stepping into water so a good pair of rubber boots would be essential.  Muck boots are not only water proof but they are very warm and comfortable.  The boots were available for us to rent for a modest fee.
During the morning we sailed through a gale which put a bit of a roll to the ship.  Most of the time when we sail around Spitsbergen the seas are calm, but this morning was different.  Forty knot winds were ripping the tops off of cresting waves.  The heavy winds meant that our proposed landing at Gnålodden in Hornsund would not work.  Instead we chose to go to the much more sheltered site of Samarinvågen.
It turned out to be to be the right decision for several reasons:  
1. It was a totally sheltered, calm bay. 
2. The sun came out. 
3. There was a beautiful glacier right beside the landing site.
4. Two Polar Bears were about a kilometre away, on top of the glacier!
Everyone got a chance to go on shore to see the bears.  They were far away but with a decent set of binoculars we could see that it was a mother and what looked like a two year old cub.  At times they were playing and at other times they lay down to rest.  It was fabulous to be at a location where we could view the bears safely.  After a couple of hours the bears started moving.  The Expedition Team gathered us closer to the landing site in case the bears decided to come our way.  It seemed however that they were not very interested in us.
We proceeded with the landing in complete safety with the added excitement of bear viewing. Sometimes fate hands us a better choice!