Saturday 27 August 2011

"We Saw A White Beare"

“The 12th of June in the morning, wee saw a white beare, which wee rowed after with our boate, thinking to cast a rope about her necke; but when wee were neare her, shee was so great that wee durst not doe it.”
Willem Barents’ journal entry from his 1596 voyage.

Today was a rather special day in our voyage in the Arctic for several reasons: 
  1. We reached our furthest point north: 81˚29’00” N (Yippee!).
  2. We found the pack ice and cruised along the pack (very cool).
  3. We found a beautiful big male Polar Bear in the pack ice almost right away (double yippee!).
  4. We saw many Harp Seals and a few Bearded Seals in the open pack ice.
  5. We all went for a cruise in the Polar Cirkel boats in the open pack ice (fantastic!)
  6. It was an absolutely beautiful day. Clear blue skies and no wind.

We went to bed last night knowing that the ice charts showed the edge of the pack ice a little further north than what we could realistically reach.  Therefore it was a very pleasant surprise this morning when the announcement came from the bridge that ice could be seen on the horizon.  As we approached the pack ice, we could see many Harp Seals along the ice edge and in openings in the pack.  Very soon a Polar Bear was spotted roaming along the edge of the ice.  The Captain slowly maneuvered Fram closer to the bear.  We could see the bear jumping from one ice floe to the next.  At times it would lie down and then roll luxuriously in the snow, a behaviour which Polar Bears often indulge in after swimming.  Soon the bear noticed Fram sneaking up on it, but it didn’t seem very concerned.  It lay on the ice for awhile, stretching, yawning, rolling about and then it leisurely got up and slowly strolled away from the ship, deeper into the pack ice.  Everyone had ample opportunity to great views of the bear.
At 12:30 we dropped the Polar Cirkel boats into the water.  With clear skies and no wind, the conditions for cruising in the ice were perfect.  It was magical.  We were in the home of the Polar Bear. 

After a while our driver stopped and turned the engine off. It was a strange and beautiful environment.  It was wonderful to just sit quietly and listen.  The only sounds were those of the slapping of waves against ice floes and the occasional bumping and grating noises of the ice.  It was quiet and peaceful. But as we have seen throughout the summer, cloudy days are more common than warm sunny days.  Picture a few weeks from now when a snowy gale comes screaming through here with 50 knot winds. Ursus Maritimus belongs here, we don’t.  It is as comfortable in a cold windy snow bank as we are in the jacuzzi on Fram. This is a place that, were we left on our own, that same cute and cuddly bear would eat us, or we would quickly die from exposure.