Wednesday 13 August 2014

Lemon or Orange, Flag or Chart…?

Wow, so this is how Svalbard can also be, huh?
Ice is cold, so the air above it gets denser and starts to sink, gaining momentum over the glacier, coming down as a catabatic wind. These winds can either be terribly strong in their own right, or - like today - add to the weather conditions that are prevailing already.
Anyway, we are greeted by a strong gale on entry of the Hornsund. The waves display  small white crowns and the howling is unmistakable. So, no Kayaking here, that is for sure. As for the hike we have to change plans, too, as the original itinerary involves a 2,5-mile boat ride, which would result in a group of hikers who start already drenched to the bone…
But there is more options, always. So we take off at the other flank of the valley, where huge whale bones and green mounds tell the tale of the whaling times that were. But this is not the only important piece of history that we come across. In the mountains around we see several cairns that were not put there by happy tourists but by the participant of a famous scientific expedition, Arc Meridian.
At the end of the 19th century people were keen on knowing more about our planet, especially how it is shaped. Two schools were discussing hard: Those who said Earth looks like a lemon, e.g. elongated towards the poles, and those who favored the orange with a dent north and south.
The method: Measuring the distance between parallels close to the poles; a greater distance means lemon, a shorter indicates orange. This required meticulous gauging and loads of trigonometry, which was carried out by the Russian/Swedish participants of the expeditionHence the cairns which served as beacons.
The orange won.
And in Gåshamna a hut in great solitude is all that remains from this amazing effort.
In spite of the strong wind and the sand storm we go out, and we enjoy this last landing very much.
In the afternoon Captain Hårvik invites to his Farewell Speech, followed by the charity auction, the proceedings of which go to polar bear research and protection. Maybe the fact that we saw ten of these remarkable animals was still present in everybody’s mind, the auction yielded a substantial amount. Well done!
The day ends with the last dinner on board, well deserved. And well served, too…