From Tromsø to Obbola

Friday, 18 November – walking back from work

It’s weekend. Today I stopped working already at 14:15. Sunset was 40 minutes ago and the light is beautiful while I’m walking home.

In Tromsø there’s hardly any snow, but a lot of rime. In the evening there’s polar light, but I only take a smartphone snapshot – tomorrow is a long day.

Saturday, 19 November – taking the bus to Narvik

Today is travel day. Round 16–17 hours it will take me from home to home.

Yes, I have two homes. One “work home” in Tromsø where I work and one “Home home” in Obbola where my wife Annika and I have a house by the Baltic Sea.

The weather is gorgeous and I take many photos through the window of the bus. Therefore some of the motives are blurred. The last one – the large bridge Hålogalandsbron is jittery because it has become dusky.

Saturday, 19 November – taking the train to Umeå

It’s a long ride from Narvik to Umeå. Departure 15:10, arrival 1:40 in the night. But it is a though train. I don’t have anything more to do but being awake on the arrival in Umeå. While I eat my take-away sushi outside of the train station it gets dark and so there is not much to see from the landscape in the train unless it stops.

In the frosty inland where it is quite cold I witness a special phenomenon. The whole forest we are passing is lit in green light. Another aurora? No, it’s cloudy. There are passages where the power lines for the train are coated with rime ice. The layer is so thick, that the current collector of the train looses contact and the electricity jumps over emitting bright green light that illuminates the dark forest.

The train arrives in Umeå in time and Annika already waits at the station. Another half an hour and I’m home home. Bed is waiting!

Sunday, 20 November – winter feelings

Oh, what a blessing it is to be home home. Normally we are supposed to work at the offices of the Norwegian Polar Institute but my boss knows about our long-distance relationship (or is it called long-distance marriage?) and allowed me to do home office until Christmas. Tusen takk! And it is even wintry and a bit sunny and a bit snowy.

From now on I can enjoy the view from my home office.

Monday, 21 November – the first home office day

Enjoying the view from my home office is a pleasure but when all of the sudden the morning sun peeks through the clouds I just have to go outside and make some photos!

And what do I do at lunchtime? This:

 

Scotland: the west coast of Isle of Lewis

This article is part of the series “2022-10: Autumn in Scotland”.

It is 10 October.

Yesterday evening we arrived on the Isle of Lewis, took the reserved rental car (Annika driving) and stayed in the Ravenspoint Community Hostel. Today we want to go by car to explore the west coast of the island.

We do not meet a single person while taking breakfast. We succeed in not raising fire alarm while frying eggs, we pack our backpacks, revert our personal rearrangement of the beds in our twin room and get in our small car – a Kia Picanto. While Annika has been in Scotland much more often than me it is our joint premiere in exploring this country by car.

After taking a detour to a small beach at Tobson we continue to Callanish Stones, one of several arrangements of menhirs. Although yesterdays gale has subsided it is still very windy with some showers of rain. My challenge as a photographer is not only to keep my small Sony dry (first photo is an iPhone photo) but also to take pictures while a large family uses the standing stones for playing hide and seek.

We make a stopover at Doune Braes Hotel for lunch. There we spot the standing stones again – as a colourful leaded window, animals included.

Next stop: the Gearrannan Blackhouses, a village of thatched cottages that was inhabited until 1974. Now it is not only a museum but one of the cottage is a hostel, where we check in and reserve a bunk bed. We have a look at the museum, where a local shows his expert knowledge regarding weaving looms. The view of the coast from the village is quite impressive. The waves are high and smash surf and spray against the rocky cliff.

Now we continue the road north to the headland with the catchy name Butt of Lewis. When we arrive there I’m really flabbergasted. Neither Annika nor I have ever seen waves breaking so high as here at the northern tip of the Isle of Lewis. Extremely impressive, a bit daunting and also a bit wet because sea spray seems to be everywhere. Keep in mind, that the rocks in the next photos are round 10 metres high. Thanks, Google Earth for your elevation data.

It takes some time until I can tear myself away. Next we head for Port of Ness, a harbour village nearby. The sandy beach is broad and shallow. Huge waves roll ashore. While they are breaking the wind gusts blow the spray away – a fascinating view. I decide that today is just not the day to take a relaxing bath in the Atlantic ocean.

We return to our parked car and drive back to our hostel – part of the Gearrannan Blackhouses. The museum is closed and it looks like we are completely alone in our cottage, that can host 13 guests. While we boil water to cook pasta we still can hear the waves splashing ashore at the rocky coast round 100 metres away. After dinner we fall fast asleep . Stormy weather is exhausting, and so is left-hand driving. So, thank you, Annika, my luv, for driving us.

 

10 days in Scotland

This article is part of the series “2022-10: Autumn in Scotland”.

It has been years, since Annika and I were on holiday outside of Fennoscandia. This October we enjoyed a ten day journey to Scotland from which I just arrived in Tromsø yesterday.

For this article I chose 2 photos for each day. Some more articles will follow later.

6 October – Edinburgh

I landed in the late morning and have the rest of the day strolling through Edinburgh. Blue sky – so it can actual stop raining in  Edinburgh ;-). In the evening I wait for Annika who is taking the tram from the airport. Now it is raining. Finally we are together.

7 October – travelling to Ullapool

We have pre-booked train tickets to Inverness where we will spend three hours before taking the coach to Ullapool. Well, in theory. The trains do not go the whole way due to heavy rain flooding. The rest is operated by replacement buses. So much to rain in Scotland. In Inverness we catch the connecting coach to Ullapool and have even time for a pizza.

8 October – hiking in Ullapool

After two travel days we want to be outdoors and look for the hiking trail to the hill Meall Mor after a hand-drawn sketch. We find it. From the top we have a view to the town, the hills and mountains in sun, clouds and rain.

9 October – taking the ferry to Lewis

After breakfast we take our backpacks through rain and heavy winds to the ferry terminal just to learn that the ferry has been cancelled because of the gusts on the Minch – the straight between Ullapool and the Isle of Lewis. Luckily the afternoon ferry runs according schedule and we arrive in Stornoway at nine o’clock. Scotland premiere: We hire a car. Annika is driving. Left-hand traffic in darkness!

10 October – exploring Lewis

We explore Lewis by car. Great that Annika is brave enough to drive in Scotland (I’m not). Read the article The west coast of Isle of Lewis about this day.

11 October – Peat bogs and Northern Gannets

From Gearrannan Village we take a small way back to Stornoway. In the bogs you can see traces of peat mining. We give back the car, take the ferry back and are watching the elegant aerial manoeuvres of the Northern Gannets. In Ullapool we receive another car that we have hired for the next two days.

12 October – exploring Assynt

We start exploring Assynt, the region north of Ullapool. Read the article Stac Pollaidh about this day.

13 October – taking a bath

Finally – our first bath! At Achmelvich beach. I will write more about this day later …

14 October – travelling to Edinburgh

It is time to give back the rental car and travel back to Edinburgh. First by coach, then by train. This travel confirms my theory that Scottish coaches and trains are designed solely for transport, not for comfort.

15 October – flying back

Short ones, long ones – all holidays comes to their end. Annika takes me to the tram, again it’s me travelling first. What a wonderful holiday. Thank you, Annika!

Polar expedition AeN JC3 – maps and numbers

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

Just some short info for the people who like maps and numbers.

This is the route of the icebreaker Kronprins Haakon on the polar expedition Arven etter Nansen JC3:

The northernmost point 82.0474°N
The southernmost point 69.5245°N
The westernmost point 07.6551°E
The easternmost point 34.1262°E

 

And some weather records (when my python script is right):

minimum maximum
Temperature -30.5 °C +2.0 °C
Wind speed 0.1 m/s 32.7 m/s
Wind speed on ship 0.1 m/s 30.9 m/s
Wind chill -48.0 °C +1.0 °C
Wind chill on ship -49.0 °C +1.0 °C

 

And some personal numbers:

Been on the sea ice 7 times
Photos taken 4084
Cakes eaten countless

Polar expedition AeN JC3 – day 14 – 17: Travelling south

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

Day 14 – 17 · 4 – 7 March 2022

4 March: after our second polar bear encounter we leave the ice station P7 at the 82th degree of latitude behind and slowly head south.

This journey will take more than two days although its only 250 km to sail. That’s because many scientific activities go on. Not from the ice but from the ship. Just an excerpt from the activity log:

  • CTD with watersample (19×)
  • Box core (4×)
  • Håv-trekk stasjon (2×)
  • Multinet (2×)

I help the benthos people in the lab and learn a lot, I discuss data matters with scientists, I edit photos. At the same time the character of this polar expedition has started to become a bit more leisure-like. A “no-talent show” is organised as well as a table tennis tournament. A quiz evening takes place and J. shows some of his favourite movies. And from time to time I stand on the helicopter deck and take new photos.

7 March: In the morning we arrive at a place between Svalbard’s second largest island Nordaustlandet and the island Kvitøya, that we already passed a week ago. Here we will have a last 24-hour ice station with the adhoc name SIce Kvitøyrenna.

 

 

Polar expedition AeN JC3 – day 11 · transit to P7

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

Day 11 · 1 March 2022

Today is travel day. Our destination is station P7 (82° N, 30 °E), further north than Svalbard and even Franz Josef Land.

From the documentation of Nansen Legacy (Arven etter Nansen):

P7 – Located in the deeper Arctic Ocean. P7 is suitable for comparing the shallow Barents Sea with the deeper Arctic Ocean. P7 will have extensive sea ice coverage during winter, and varying sea ice cover during summer. P7 might be suitable for geological coring.

When we arrive there the sea ice is a bit thin. Therefore we continue a bit further north where we find a suitable ice floe. So, tomorrow: the second ice station of this cruise.

Some ice photos from this day:

(Photo 5 and 6 are switched for layout reasons)

 

 

Polar expedition AeN JC3 – day 7 and 8: a stormy intermezzo

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

Day 7 and 8 · 25 – 26 February 2022

25. Feb 07:00 – testing clothing concepts for extreme cold weather

Another Arctic morning. It has become slightly warmer with temperatures round -24 °C but at the same time a lot of windier. The average wind speeds of 20 m/s and above. So windchill is still -45 °C and I wonder how to dress just in case I will be on the sea ice the first time this night. No, I do not count on being allowed to enter it under such conditions but you never know. Be prepared and wait …

For safety reasons we always have to wear a special suit on the ice in case of someone breaks through. That’s either the Regatta suit, a floatation suit. This acts as a full body life vest giving you buoyancy in the water. However you will get wet instantly. No big issue because we will always be quite near the ship and conditions are ok. If the circumstances are more extreme or the ice is not trusted a survival suit with attached rubber boots is used. It will keep you completely dry as long as the arm and neck cuffs are tight. It is said however that it is uncomfortable to wear and you easily get very cold feet.

So, let’s get dressed. For the first time I put on the Regatta suit. It is as breathable as a rubber dinghy so you should not sweat too much. Over that, more for the fur hood than the warmth the Canada Goose parka. Yes, I can still move ;-)

Dressed like never before I open the thick door to the helicopter deck and stagger outside. Whoa! That’s some rough weather. I instantly feel every single square millimetre of skin that is still exposed to the wind and even that the zipper of the down pants are not completely closed at the bottom although I wear high rubber boots. In my opinion the hood of the Snow Mantra is ingenious but the gusty storm just pushes it aside in all directions and I can hardly see anything. So I do not check if the selfies taken with the Nikon and three pairs of gloves and mittens are in focus. They are not.

Being in again I understand the first time, why the parka hood is not only fur-trimmed but have this thick fleece rim inside. It keeps away the ice dust that the storm blows in.

The combination of Regatta suit is too warm and too bulky. I test another combination with the shell jacket of the Norwegian Polar Institute and ski goggles. Insight 1: if the hood does not fit perfectly it is completely useless in the storm. Insight 2: my old ski goggles freeze over so fast that within a minute I am functionally blind. I have to remove them to find back to the helicopter hangar. While checking this the storm pushes me around on the deck slippery deck. I really doubt if anyone wants to work on the ice in these extreme conditions. On the other side I do not know anything about polar research. Neither about polar researchers. It’s me who is the newbie.

25. Feb 11:00 +2h – planning for the storm

Aside: The day before we changed the ship’s time to take better advantage of the daylight. When I write +2h it means our privately shifted time. Otherwise it means „normal“ CET time zone.  If you don’t care, just ignore it.

We have a meeting before lunch. A storm approaches. We will seek shelter between Nordaustlandet, Svalbard’s second-largest island and the island Kvitøya. Conditions are too rough for an ice station. Although all four ship engines are running we hardly make progress. There is no time schedule anymore. We just have to sit it out.

25. Feb 16:20 – the swell wracks the ice

At 15:20 I take a long afternoon nap while Kronprins Haakon struggles through the ice. I have on of the frontmost cabins on deck 3 –the noisiest ones. The icebreaker is rumbling, rattling, grinding, squeaking and doing many more noises that I do not have words for. I lie in my bed and feel the mattress vibrating, shaking, bouncing. And I love it. For me it is like an Arctic lullaby and as mostly I fall fast asleep.

z – z – z – z – z

After an hour I wake up all of a sudden. Something has changed. The ship is slowly and strongly pitching. At the same time noises and vibrations are absent. Are we in open water? What happened!?

I have to compensate the ship’s movements while I walk to the dayroom. I peek through the ice crusted windows. Yes, we are in open water. J. sitting there tells me that 10 minutes ago swell waves. They broke up the ice within minutes and now the ice has disappeared. Impressive and a bit frightening, too.

Now we are amidst the storm with an hourly average of 24.2 m/s, that’s round 87 km/h. The highest wind speed measured in this hour is 32.7 m/s, that’s the exactly beginning of Hurricane force or level 12 on the Beaufort scale.

Although the ship is stabilised it is pitching, rolling, yawing, heaving and a lot of people have started to get seasick. I feel quite ok, but a bit stressed and tired. After a while I decide to lie down for a quarter. Good idea! I feel better again after that.

I’m in the day room again, watching the dark waves through the ice encrusted windows . Sometimes the spray splashes up many metres. No, I won’t enter any outside deck today any longer!

25. Feb 19:24 – crossing the 80th degree of latitude

I wanted to see on the digital nautical chart how we cross the 80th degree of latitude but I miss it by some minutes in time. Soon I go to bed quite curious how the next day may look like.

26. Feb morning – Kvitøya

06:10 – The wind has calmed down and I stand on the helicopter deck (on level 6) again. Open water, a bit of ice and in the distance a pale scheme. The island Kvitøya. It looks like the spray has reached the deck because everything is coated in ice and the ice on the floor is slippery and feels like soap powder.

After the breakfast I try to catch Kvitøya on the Nikon sensor.

The last photos are crap from a technical view (taken at 600 mm ƒ/6.3 in twilight on a moving ship and a travel tripod). Anyhow they show the glacial coast of this Arctic island which I think is very impressive. A pity that the weather was so cloudy.

26. Feb morning – we reach ice again

While I take these photos another thing happens: we reach ice again. First fields of beautifully rounded pancake ice floes, then a few hours later we are in ¹⁰/₁₀ of thick ice again. There Kronprins Haakon can show again that it is an icebreaker.

We have another meeting at 09:00 +2h. We learn that it is more than unsure whether station P4 will have any reliable sea ice to work on. The cruise leader asks: shall we try P5 instead? Yes, all scientists agree. So today we will head to P5 at 80.5 °N 34 °E. That’s only an estimated position. First of all a suitable ice floe has to be found and then this floe will drift on the sea and so change position while ice work is ongoing.

26. Feb 16:00 – checking the ice

Eight hours later. Together with the cruise leader and the captain the ice experts had looked for a suitable ice floe. When they were satisfied the ship stopped and a derrick lowered the ice gangway. Now four people are on the ice. All equipped with survival suits. Two of them carry rifles. We are in the home of the polar bears.

Will I be allowed to enter the sea ice? Perhaps already tomorrow? I doubt it but I’m really longing. I don’t know where this strong relation for the Arctic comes from but it’s definitely there and it grew the last days. And I want to be part of it as much as possible.

Polar expedition AeN JC3 – day 6: sailing through the ice

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

Day 6 · 24 February 2022

We are on our way to P4, our first ice station. P4 lies at 79.75 °N 34.00 °N, round 50 km southeast of the island Kvitøya (white island) that belongs to the Svalbard archipelago. This station is more north than Ny-Ålesund on Svalbard. The estimated time of arrival is tomorrow round lunch time.

However it is not granted that the ice will be safe enough to work on. In addition to that it will become stormy tonight and maybe the whole next day according to windy.com . So even when the ice is safe the weather conditions could be too harsh. So there are several uncertainties. We plan for the station but more we cannot do yet.

Today is a cold day with temperatures maximum of -25.0 °C and minimum of -30.5 °C. I’ve experienced colder temperatures many times in my live in different parts of Lapland, but then the wind was always calm. With the ongoing wind the resulting windchill lies between -36 °C and -49 °C. And windy is right: it starts getting windier in the evening.

temperate in °C | wind speed relative to the ship in m/s | resulting windchill in °C.

I take photos of marine animals, I learn the basics of ice observation but I stand outside quite often today. Watching the icebreaking polar research vessel Kronprins Haakon breaking through the ice. It is a great experience and I’m happy that I may participate.

But now, let the photos speak. The first I made at 3:50 in the night, the last ones at 19:10.

 

 

Polar expedition AeN JC3 – day 1 and 2: Tromsø

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

Day 1 and 2 · 19 – 20 February 2022

Oh, well – where to start? I’m still completely overwhelmed from the polar winter expedition Arven etter Nansen (The Nansen Legacy) with the icebreaking polar research vessel Kronprins Haakon that just ended three days ago.

Ok, perhaps it’s best to start with the beginning.

The beginning

It’s Saturday, 19 February 2022 early in the morning. I look at my baggage in my one-room flat. A huge suitcase, an even huger bag, my photo backpack and my bulky Canada Goose down parka plus winter boots.

Do I really have everything? Warm clothes? The helseerklæring – a medical certificate that proves me “seaworthy”? All camera equipment? All gloves and mittens? LAN-cable with adapter for Mac? My reading glasses? Passport? Woollen underpants? Balaclava?

I made a complete packing list, I packed twice(!) but still I’m a bit nervous. When I’m on the ship, it’s probably too late to organise left-behind things.

The taxi arrives at 8:15. It drives north to the harbour, opens the gate to the restricted area and continues directly to pier 25. I’m not alone. Other people that came by taxi or brought by private car and a lot of luggage are there, too. And there it is: Kronprins Haakon, my home for the next three weeks.

My cabin

I ascent the gangway – I have to go twice with all my luggage – and there is a reception. I tell my name and get my key card. I’m in cabin 385. I get a short description of where to find it. It is quite low on deck 3 and right in the front. These cabins are told to be the loudest when the ship starts breaking ice.

The cabin has a huge window. Wow! Behind the window: two bull eyes. As closed and locked as possible. So I won’t see anything from my cabin, but that’s ok. It’s pretty roomy with a desk, a small table, a small sofa and space to store your stuff. And a bathroom. I’ll share this cabin with P., a scientist.

Waiting

Next event: passport control through the police. Then: the first meeting. Here we learn, that departure is delayed, because a crane has to be fixed. Estimated time of departure: tomorrow after bunkering fuel.

While I can take it easy the scientists are busy. They don’t wear lab coats, they wear safety boots and helmets and use pallet jacks to put their equipment to the right places. And there is a lot equipment! Several containers full of it!

11:30 – lunch. Wow, the food is rich in variety and it tastes wonderful. I heard that many people gain weight on these cruises. Now I understand.

12:30 – group photo. That’s my job because I have all my camera equipment with me. Click. Click. Click.

13:00 – safety briefing. How to put on the survival suit in case of evacuation. I’m the guinea pig. And I hear a thing that photographers dream of: Almost every place on the ship is freely accessible. The quarterdeck at the ship’s stern, the helicopter deck at the ship’s bow, the bridge on level 8, the observation deck on level 9. Great! I use the spare time to stroll around a bit.

15:00 – safety training. We „muster“ which means we gather all in the mess – the same room where we eat – split into two groups and enter the life boats. These boats are equipped with everything you need to survive for some days but when you go to the toilet everyone can see it. Made for survival, not for comfort or privacy.

17:00 – dinner. 18:30 – a second meeting. 20:00 – the equipment of the polar institute is accessible: I fetch two pairs of boots and a floating overall size XL. A helmet I already have.

22:45 – bed time. First night on the ship. My bunk bed looks small but is comfortable and very cozy. Good night!

Day 2 – More waiting

I wake up. Do we move? I’m not sure. The internet reveals: we have moved and are now south of Tromsøya. Let’s go out onto the heli deck. Oh, what a beautiful morning!

The ships moves to the bunker station. There it will lie for many hours. Bunkering fuel takes time.

A lot of time. I help a bit here and there, but I cannot do so much. The scientists are extremely organised and mostly it’s faster for them when I do not try to help. At least I can carry some stuff around.

The departure is estimated for 16:00 but when we have dinner at 17:30 we still lay at the same place. I overhear that this delay is larger than usual. When will we start? Will this affect the planning? As most things on board I just don’t know. I’m the newbie.

The journey begins

17:54 – while I am eating my chilli con carne I feel a change in the ship. I look out of the window and almost shout out: „We are moving!“. Finally we are on our way!

After dinner I stand on the heli deck for a long time. I’m on the phone with Annika – maybe the last time for some weeks. I watch the ship going under the bridge Sandnessundbrua that connects Tromsøya and Kvaløya. I watch the Northern Lights. And I’m very happy. The journey begins!

Arrival in Longyearbyen

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

It is half past two in the night between Thursday and Friday. For almost two hours I had stood on the helicopter deck of the icebreaker Kronprins Haakon to witness our arrival in Longyearbyen on Svalbard.

When I went outside two hours ago clouds had just started to gather and the moon was hidden. I could see dark and pale schemes on both sides of the ship and straight ahead another shade of a mountain, decorated with lights.

Slowly the lights came nearer. And since it was the first time I had mobile Internet for many days I could follow our route on the map of the iPhone. Only occasionally because a cold wind on the bow made the quite mild temperatures of -5 °C feel much colder.

There – the airport! And then, after we started to turn into the Adventfjorden, the city LongyearbyenSvalbard’s largest settlement.

The ship slowed down at the harbour and slowly and carefully started to move sideways. Do we still move? I peek down to the pier. There, the first thick rope connects the vessel with land – the first land after we bunkered fuel round 19 days ago!

We have arrived in Longyearbyen. Almost three weeks I worked, learned, photographed, relaxed, ate and slept on Kronprins Haakon. Tomorrow I’ll disembark and in the early afternoon take an airplane back to Tromsø. Yes, I am sad that this incredible journey has now come to its end. But I am also happy and content and full of stories, experiences and memories.

Do I smile on the photo or am I sad? Most of all I am tired and then a bit tense because it is hard to hold the iPhone as still as possible for some seconds with an outstretched arm.

The scientific winter cruise Arven etter Nansen JC3 took almost three weeks. Three very extraordinary weeks. And it will take at least three other weeks to tell some of the stories and show some of the photos here in the blog. So, please be patient – more to come, but step by step.