Polar expedition AeN JC3 – day 3 and 4: transit to P1

This article is part of the series “2022-02: Winter cruise KPH”.

Day 3 and 4 · 21 – 22 February 2022

Monday, 21 February

Yesterday afternoon we left Tromsø behind for the transit to P1. The program Arven etter Nansen has seven so called process study stations called P1 to P7. P1 is the southernmost station with the approx. coordinates 76° N 31°13′ E. That’s almost five degree more north then I’ve ever been in my live. And it is planned to reach P7 at 82° N later on this cruise. Will we make it?

ETA (estimated time of arrival) is set to tomorrow 8:00. So today is travel day.

After I woke up I take a short lookout on the helicopter deck before breakfast. This starts to be a personal tradition on this cruise. With -11 °C it is colder than the days before but wind is calm and the temperature feels still very moderate.

I expected that we had left the mainland far behind and would cruise through open sea. To my surprise I can see mountains and lights. Where are we!?

Internet reveals that we are just passing the island Melkøya near Hammerfest. Melkøya is illuminated by the lights of the processing plant Hammerfest LNG. Interesting!

After a rich breakfast I stand on the same deck again. Today I feel more like a cruise tourist then a data manager on a work trip. Even the photos look like beautiful but quite random pictures taken from a Hurtigruten ship.

And indeed the icebreaker Kronprins Haakon follows the very same route as the Hurtigruten ships. Aside from that we do not call any ports. (Spoiler: next port is Longyearbyen on Svalbard 18 days from now.)

What do you do on a transit day on sea? Participating the mandatory sea ice training for example. It’s from 9:00 to 14:00 with a lunch break and we are told a lot about the different risks we might be confronted with on this cruise.

What I know is cold weather. Hypothermia, frost bite. I tented at -35 °C, I skied in blizzard-like conditions. I guess I have a bit of experience.

What I hardly know is arctic sea ice. I’ve been on the ice of the northern Baltic Sea countless times, but that water has only the tenth of the salinity compared to the water of the Barents Sea. The sea ice is softer and the conditions are quite different.

I  definitely know nothing about polar bears and a lot of the training is learning the procedures to avoid contacts.  I’ll talk more about this in another blog article.

At 13:30 we meet at the quarterdeck and train the handling of throw bags. Inside the bag there is a rope attached to a hip belt. When someone breaks through the ice the rescuer can throw this bag. The person to be rescued catches the rope and can be pulled back to safety. By having a long rope it is possible to keep distance. This minimises the risk that the rescuer breaks through as well. I know this from kayak courses but I’m glad to give it some tries again. Yes, it’s me on the next photo.

Photo: Adam Steer, Norwegian Polar Institute

At 16:00 I go on deck 3 again. It has got dark and started snowing.

Later that day the arrival time for P1 has been postponed to 19:00, eleven hours later than the ETA before. So much to the letter E in ETA ;-) It is almost impossible to plan with conditions as unsure as in the Arctic.

Tuesday, 22 February

My sis has birthday today. Hooray! Will we still have internet that I can wish her a Happy Birthday? Don’t ask me why, but we have internet in this remote place and I can send her a message.

Again I am on the helicopter deck before breakfast. Three differences to the day before: The deck is covered with snow, it is slightly warmer and no land is in sight. Finally we have left mainland Norway behind. And more and more I’m able to realise that I am really on a scientific polar expedition!

Still it will take another 11½ hours until we reach P1. I use the time to finally start working. My goal on this cruise is to understand the flow of scientific data. Where do the unique IDs come from? Where location and time? How are physical samples tied to the digital data? And can I improve these processes? I ask many stupid question to scientists to get a basic understanding.

And since I cannot ask questions for 11½ hours – I don’t want to be thrown overboard by my “victims” – I use more time to stand outside and take pictures.

Dinner 17:30. I forgot what I ate but it was delicious! For sure, because every single meal has been delicious on Kronprins Haakon.

But after dinner it is time to recover a glider. This is the first scientific activity on this cruise. Finally!


Travelling with the MS Lofoten: Kirkenes – Øksfjord

This article is part of the series “2019-02: Northern Norway”.

Friday, 15 February

While I moved into my cabin the Hurtigruten ship MS Lofoten still anchored in the port of Kirkenes. I had a windowless 2-bed-cabin for myself and was able to spread out my belongings. But before that I took a photo with my fisheye lens. With the fisheye-like distortion the cabin look huge!

I used the Hurtigruten twice before, in 2017 from Vardø to Stokmarknes and last year from Båtsfjord to Ørnes. So the section KirkenesVardø was new to me. And it’s the first time without my car on board.

We were in the harbour till half past twelve.

Then we left Kirkenes and my 3rd and longest Hurtigruten journey had started. I stood at the stern of the ship and looked back.

Soon I changed place from stern to bow – at the MS Lofoten you can stand next to the bridge – and looked ahead. Far away, a bit to the port side I could spot a white plain – part of the Varanger peninsula.

[Live interruption: We have reached the open Lopphavet between Øksfjord and Skervøy. The ship has started to rock again. I am interrupted by the sound of a plate falling down from the table. Thanks to the soft carpet it survived]

Annika and I travelled a lot on the Varanger peninsula last winter. I stood on the port side of the ship and tried to spot all places we have been: There’s Vadsø, the largest town – there, far away is Ekkerøy with it’s beautiful beaches. And there is Kiberg, where we had a good time with Trond, our host of Cape East Arctic Adventure. And there’s his house! I found it! Let’s see, what about Kibergsneset, the easternmost point of mainland Norway where Annika and I had been last year? It was farther away from the village than I remembered, but finally I found it, too. Both photos are taken with 600 mm from a rocking ship with a vibrating motor, so the quality is bad, but it was nice to take these pictures.

Half an hour we arrived in Vardø, stop #1. (Vadsø is left out on the southbound direction.) We arrived late and I decided to stay aboard. I’ve been in Vardø before.

When we left Vardø behind, it was too dark to see the scenery. I have breakfast included but not the other meals, because I think they are quite expensive. I have my own food with me. This day however I didn’t have a proper breakfast so I bought a large bread with salmon and scrambled eggs.

The MS Lofoten went along the northern coast of Varanger. It was windy and the sea was a bit rough. The MS Lofoten was exposed to the elements. It is not only the smallest operating Hurtigruten ship but also the only one without stabilisers. It was rocking in every direction and the swell got stronger and stronger. Sometimes the bow of the ship was hovering in midair and then scended into the next trough. I’ve never been seasick before but I started to sweat and to feel quite uncomfortable. I tried to ignore it for a while, then I interrupted my photo edit session, went down to my cabin and went straight into bed. Whether it was my lying position or the fact, that the cabin was nearer to the center of the ship’s mass I don’t know, but I felt much better and fell soon asleep.

I woke up shortly before Båtsfjord, stop #2. Near the harbour the strong swell had subsided. Soon the ship lay calmly at the jetty. It had started snowing intensely. We were in Båtsfjord quite a long time due to a lot of freight being unloaded and loaded.

I went into my cabin and continued sleeping. I overslept Berlevåg, Mehamn and Kjøllefjord but was awake in …

Saturday, 16 February

Honningsvåg, stop #6. I was so sure that I would oversleep this stop as well, but we were an hour late. I was still dark, but I could take some photos with my tripod.

[Live interruption: We have left the Lopphavet, the sea was much calmer than expected]

We left Honningsvåg with an hour delay. I tried to make pictures but the sight was poor, mostly because of the snow showers and the low hanging clouds. At least I could take a picture of the MS Nordnorge.

An announcement came through the speakers: Due to the delay we would skip Havøysund, usually stop #7. This would spare us half an hour.

It got warmer. Temperatures were hardly below zero, much too warm for the season. It snowed more and more and all you could see was the ship and a circular patch of waves and snow.

Anyway the snow showers didn’t last for hours and after another snow shower Melkøya came into view.

Melkøya is just a few kilometres away from Hammerfest, second largest town of the Finnmark. It’s the endpoint of an undersea pipeline for natural gas. Here it is converted to liquefied natural gas that is exported to the world.

Right after Melkøya Hammerfest, stop #7 on this journey came into view.

Here we had a longer stopover. A young woman took ropes, rolled them up and threw them up onto the much higher foredeck of the MS Lofoten. She succeeded every time. Later I asked here if I might use the photo (I may) and she told me that she wasn’t sure if she would make it today because of the strong winds.

I left the MS Lofoten for looking around, taking pictures and buying a coke in the local supermarket. Some photos:

After an hour I went aboard again, placed myself into the salon and started editing images. The weather was too dull to take great pictures, a good reason to be lazy.

I even took a short nap in my cabin. Anyhow I was up again when we arrived in Øksfjord, stop #8. With a fisheye photo of the port Loppa Havn I will finish this blog article.

[Back to now: Soon we’ll arrive in Skjervøy, stop #9. If we make it we’ll even reach Tromsø today but perhaps I’ll sleep. I’ve been in Tromsø several times before and even twice last year.]




Hammerfest and Honningsvåg

Day 49

Quite early I left Alta yesterday and continued the E6 in direction Kirkenes. To the left I could see the Altafjorden but soon the street turned right and went a bit up. Half of the Finnmark is above the tree line and so are parts of the E6. But it’s still amazing that you leave the coastal area with green pine trees and wet snow and after a bit of driving up you are in an area with snow covered mountains and just some downy birches here and there.

But after a while the road went down again and I turned left to visit Hammerfest. I made a short stop in Kvalsund before I drove over the bridge onto the island Kvaløya where Hammerfest is situated at the western coast.

I know the name Hammerfest for ages, I guess it was mentioned in my children’s encyclopedia. As many other towns in Norway Hammerfest is a modern town, since it was destroyed almost completely in WW2. For me the name sounds quite German, both “Hammer” and “fest” are German words as well. When I had a look in the tourist information I thought, that Hammerfest is a German town, because all people talked German. But that’s probably only because the Hurtigruten was just in town and many tourists that make a cruise with one of these ships come from German speaking countries.

After a shorter strolling through town I continued the road to Forsøl in the north of Kvaløya. Again the road went through treeless, snow covered hills and mountains. But the rocks at the coast showed moss and other creeping plants due to the mild coastal climate.

I returned and planned to continue my journey to Honningsvåg, one of the northernmost towns in Europe. Driving back was not easy in the beginning because the streets where wet and it was hard to see something against the low standing sun, even with sun glasses and flapped down sun shields. But soon the road changed direction and driving became easier. Now I continued the E6 a bit and turned left into the E69 (that’s where I made the pictures of the Purple Sandpipers) that leads to the town Honningsvåg and to the Nordkapp. It started to dawn and even to snow a bit.

After a while it was dark. I could see grey snow, dark rocks and the dark sea. After a while I couldn’t see anything anymore, just the reflecting tape round the plastic marks and the tunnels. Meanwhile we had +3 °C and it rained. (I guess, it can be alike in summer …) Already from distance I could see the lights of Honningsvåg. The last tunnel went beneath the sea and came out again on the island Magerøya. Some minutes later I was in Honningsvåg.

Now I had three wishes: Food, internet and a room. It took a while to find the only open restaurant, a pizzeria. Check! There I was allowed to use the private WiFi to get internet. Thank you, guys! Check! And there, with the help of Annika who was online I found a room in a hostel. Expensive but hey, we’re in Norway. Check!

Now, the morning after, I will have breakfast and then I will pretend to be a real tourist and visit the Nordkapp, the northern most point in Europe you can reach by car.