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Nearly all expeditions have an ultimate goal, before we left while researching information about Svalbard I found that it had a very interesting and suitable target that we could use as ours. I discovered that in Ny Alusund 150 meters from the end of the pier was the most Northerly pub on the planet. That was it, this is what we would aim for!

Our route, red there black back

I had planned to go nonstop all the way to Longyearbyen,  a passage of 14 to 21 days. Only if the weather and the boat were in agreement...both were not!

On the 28th of June 2018 after lots of preparation and vitaling in a heavily laden boat we left Ullapool. On board with me were Jimmi Gordon, Jerry Byrne, and Brian Farquhar. Stores included 450l of fuel 400l fresh water, food for four for twenty one plus days and a carry out that at the time we thought was ridiculously big! We motored West of the Summer isles hauled the main and swung Mardling due North. 

The South easterly wind increased substantially more than was given in the forecast and the third reef proved to be much harder to put in at sea than alongside as practised. I was also struggling with satellite communications. With this in mind it was decided we would head for Faroes to regroup.

Deep reefed on the approach to the Faroes

As we closed the sound between the South East end of Streymoy and Nolsoy the wind had swung round to South West and was still increasing. Thankfully we were getting shelter from the land but it was fair funnelling down between the islands and we had gusts of 51 knots across the deck, a strength that proved to be the strongest for the whole trip. To add to the misery it started pouring with rain as we entered Torshavn harbour...but at last the bucking and rolling slowed down to a gentle motion. At this point Jerry stuck his head up from below and with a serious look on his face says "I think we have a poltergeist on board it has thrown everything of the shelves at me!"  

Two days later with a fair forecast we set of on the next leg. We could now put the 3rd reef in from the cockpit (ironically we never had to use it again!) I had also managed to download new software that would give us up to date weather info and communications to home.

 We changed the plan to continue direct to Svalbard and would now split up the journey and make Norwegian landfall in the Lofoten Islands. Then continue to the North of Norway via Tromso, we were soon to be glad of that decision.

I had read it takes about three days at sea for the routine to swing in and to grow a reasonable set of sea legs. I think that thanks to the good weather we were there by day two. The wind was now blowing 18 to 22 knots from the South West and the sun was shining! This was as near to ideal we could have asked for, and it was forecasted for three days! We split into two watches of twelve hours Jimmi and Brian on one Jerry and I on the other. Roast dinners were made, drams were had, (off watch crew only!) and we steadily made our way north at an average of 125 mile a day, which was enough for the days to get noticeably longer with every sunrise and sunset.

Latitude 66° 33′ N

Crossing the in to the Arctic Circle was our first big milestone. We watched the GPS count up and as it neared I put a bottle of Prosecco in the ice box and readied the flutes! With a build up like George Square on New Years Eve we counted down 30'...31'....33'! we had made the Arctic circle!! We popped the bottle and toasted Mardling, Neptune, and ourselves. Then there was a shout from below..."The toilets nea working!" this was serious.

So full of Prosecco our ships plumber Brian and I donned the rubber gloves and masks and went to work striping and unblocking...not quite the way I had thought the entry to the polar region celebrations would go!

Norway landfall

About 100 miles from the Norwegian coast the wind died. I went below to prepare the engine for starting, Because of access I check the engine cooling water level by dipping my finger in it, This time it came out covered in emulsified oil.....this was even more serious than the blocked toilet!

There was no water in the engine oil so we started it and began motor sailing towards Svolvaer the largest town in the Lofoten chain of islands.

By this Latitude the Sun was below the horizon from about midnight until 2am, but it was not getting dark. We first spotted land just as the sun was rising. As we got closer and the the day brightened the most amazing scenery grew from the horizon ahead. Very high steep sided peaks on small islands with a bit of vegetation hanging on where it could and small picturesque towns on the few flat bits of land between mountain and sea.

Slartibartfast the Magrathean planet designer won a well justified award for designing the west coast of Norway:)  

Lofoten Islands

We entered Svolvaer around 8am and got ourselves a nice berth almost in the centre a modern looking sea front. Around the harbour were a few marine engineers and boat yards, the main reason we picked this as our port of entry. With the boat all squared away and crew showered we went ashore for a lunchtime pint, ooouchya!!!Our first introduction to Norwegian beer prices!

We originally thought worst case we would be away within a week, in the end we spent a frustrating 10 days alongside in Svolvaer waiting for parts for the engine and for them to be fitted. We tried to make best of our time there and the weather was roasting.

We hired a car and travelled the length of the islands visiting museums and general tourist stuff.

Jerry is a prawn fisherman, midsummer is the height of his season and this break down was keeping him away longer than he had planned, so unfortunately he had to head home. 

Our first glimpse of the Midnight Sun

We were glad to see the back of Svolvaer and get moving again, the plan was to take the inland route via Tromso to our North coast departure point. It is a journey of around two days, but we spent two days exploring the world's most Northerly city. While there we went to the excellent Polar museum that had some amazing displays of high latitude history, exploration and exploitation.

 One of the most memorable was an old rusted Lee Enfield 303 rifle with a round jammed in the breach. It was found by the scattered remains of three trappers! A reminder of the place us humans are in the food chain where we are going.

I must admit to feeling a wee bit apprehensive as the North coast of Norway dipped the horizon and ahead looked foggy and windy. I need not have worried, once again boat and crew got into the swing of life at sea and the Latitude climbed.

The first time I had thought about doing this trip was probably three years before departure, and started serious planning a year after that. The available pilot literature was all written ten or more years ago when ice was a lot more prevalent. They warned vessels that if there was any West in the wind to keep plenty of distance from the West coast of Svalbard and avoid all inlets for fear of sea ice blocking your exit. When we got North of Bear island the wind was South west so we became more alert for ice . There was no need there was none. Anyway the fog thickened and for the next few days we became surrounded in a half mile to fifty meter bubble of visibility.

Around this time we noticed that the engine repairs were not successful and the original problem was back. 

About twelve hours form Longyearbyen still in thick fog a blip appeared on the radar then AIS informed us that it was the Norwegian coast guard vessel Nordkapp. We expected that we would get boarded and passports and bond were prepared. Looking very sinister all she did was appear through the fog followed us for an hour and disappeared again.

I was on watch and the fog had changed to heavy rain as the first glimpse of Svalbard appeared. In this weather it looked just like the West coast of Scotland! Three hours later we were tied up to a modern pontoon half a mile West of Longyearbyen. Large and now mandatory arrival drams were poured despite it being half seven the morning.

Svalbard meanderings

After a couple of hours sleep we woke to a glorious day and went ashore to explore and to get our paper work and permits in place. Svalbard is a Norwegian archipelago and administered by them. The lady in charge of the whole area is called the Sysselmannen. She is chief of police, head of the customs, regulator of tourism etc etc. Her offices are in a large new building overlooking the capital and it is from here that all the required paperwork is issued.

To travel anywhere outside the town the regulations require you to carry and know how to use bear deterrents. Also to allow us to travel in areas not normally covered by search and rescue a deposit had to be placed. And last but not least you needed a permit to allow you to buy alcohol. So we left the building with permission to rent a rifle, buy beer and go exploring!


 Science, education and tourism seem to be the main occupations on the archipelago also there is a lot of construction work as the tourism infrastructure seems to be trying to catch up with demand. All around the town there are the well preserved remains of the aerial tramway and other relics from coal mining years. The town has a very impressive university a few hotels and bars, some tourist shops and tour companies and a couple of small supermarkets.

We spent two days alongside in Longyearbyen and met some local guides and charter boat skippers who gave us very useful information that drove our plans for the next couple of weeks.

As expected at this time of year a large Arctic high pressure system had developed. The skies were clear and the sun shone 24hrs a day but there was no wind! The engine was running fine but we had to drain emulsified oil from the header tank every 18 hours.

Our first stop was the abandoned Russian coal mining town Pyrmiden. In its hay day the there was 1000 people living there. It was built to be able to support these people all year long. There was a school, swimming pool, sports hall, cultural building, hotel, farm and hospital. All coal mining stopped and the town was abandoned around twenty years ago but the hotel a recently reopened.

 It was about midnight when we arrived and it was a very surreal experience walking about the ghost town in bright sunshine at that time of night . Also this was our first time alone in bear country so we were on the lookout for them and convinced ourselves that every wee white thing on the hill was a one and there was one round every corner!

Main street Pyrmiden

Brian and Lenin

Over the next ten days we pottered our way around Isfjorden and up through Forlandsundet. Isfjorden translates to Ice fjord and again as recently as ten years ago pilot books warned of ice and again there was none.
During this time we had two of our most memorable wildlife experiences. The first was a polar bear that was swimming and diving about 100 meters from the boat, close by was what seemed a very worried looking seal. We watched them trying to outwit each other for about half an hour but concerned about intruding to much we backed off and let nature take its course. We anchored about a mile from where we saw this and went to our bunks hopping the bear had already eaten!

My best bear photo. (I need a better camera!)

Our next and my favourite encounter was with the walruses. One of the tour guides had marked our chart with the spot, but as we approached it a thick fog descended. The X on the chart was on a low lying spit surrounded by lots of shoal areas so the pilotage was a bit intense. We were about 50 meters away and in 5 meters of water when we got eyes on the shore and dropped the hook. As we prepared the dinghy for going ashore the mist lifted a bit and as sure as the local guides word we saw a group of about ten walruses relaxing on the beach not far from the boat.

The big beasties on the beach

And some more!

I could have sat and watched the walruses for hours but was reminded by the crew our ultimate goal was only fifty miles North.

Shackelton said Superhuman effort isn't worth a dam unless it achieves results'' So getting back on the boat with the heater and dinner on, the intrepid explorers switched on the GPS hauled anchor and doggedly pressed on towards their objective.

Mist lifting as we head towards Ny Alusund

Ny-Ă…lesund is a company ran town that is host to sixteen permanent research stations run by agencies from ten different countries, including China, South Korea, Japan, and most European nations. The work they are doing is mainly environmentally related, studying meteorology marine ecosystems and space earth measurements. All around the town there are large satellite dishes and they even have a rocket launch pad! It has a summer population of around 120 that drops to 35 in the winter.

Just after we tied up a stiff North Easterly wind picked up and was due to blow for a day or two just as well as it was Wednesday and we had found out that the pub did not open until Thursday 

The Mellageret Bar Ny-Aleusund

1800nm For a pint and two wines no wonder we are all smiling!

Not long after these photos were taken we were asked not to take any more as the locals did not like cameras to be used after a certain time? It seemed a strange rule but we abided by it as it would not be a good move to get bared up here! 

The wind abated around the same time as our hangovers and we headed of to explore Krossforden and Lillehookbreen glacier. Heading up the fjord we really started to see ice of all shapes and sizes and had to keep a close lookout as we approached the glacier. At well over 4 mile wide and 80 feet high Lillehookbreen is one of the largest in Svalbard. We stopped around 150 meters from the face. It was not long until we saw and heard it calving. Almost constant loud rumbling and banging came from deep inside. The way it sounded was almost as amazing as the way it looked!

Lillehookbreen Glacier 

As dinner was being prepared I jumped into the dinghy to take some photos and at the same time I collected a few lumps of ice and took them back to the boat I had the 'Ice for my dram'.

Our most Northerly point

When I plotted this reading on our paper chart that had been surveyed ten years ago we were around 1 mile inland! Things are really changing quickly up here. After food we flashed up the engine and started the long journey South. 

We stopped at a few places on the way one was called Lloyds Hotel. It is the only place that you are allowed to leave a memento of your visit and people have been doing so for over 100 years. The walls are adorned with plaques and notes form long past expeditions that make fascinating reading.

Lloyd's hotel and Mardling's mark

After visiting the still working Russian mining town of Barentsberg we headed back to Longyearbyen for a crew change. Jimmi and Brian were heading home and my son Kyle was coming for the rest of the trip to back Tromso. The engine problem was gradually getting worse and I now had to drain the oil after every 8 hours. 

Nevertheless Kyle and I managed a few days exploring including revisiting Pyrmiden. This time the hotel was open and we went in for food. Russian people always appear a bit harsh and gruff to me, but every time I have met one appearances have always deceived. In the hotel they would only take dollars but we had none. We asked for glasses of water before we left and the response we got from the barmaid was a blunt "Sit!" Twenty minutes later two large bowls of stew and big lumps of bread were placed in front of us! Kyle even managed to get the barmaid to smile! 

Kyle chilling and taking aim at Mardling :(

The last entry in the visitor's book of a cabin we visited
A couple of small lows had passed between Slavbard and the North of Norway and another was on its way. We headed South and timed it right to get a day and a half broad reach all the way to Bear Island where we dropped the hook to do some sail repairs and to drain the oil. Two days later with the engine starting to overheat we scraped our way into a small fishing village on the North coast of Norway.

Inside our heat exchanger

When we arrived in Tromso I found out that the winter lift out berth I thought I had was not available. Luckily I met a local chap on the pontoon who had the solution to my predicament. He was taking his boat out for the winter and I could use his berth. He also gave me the use of his winter ropes and fenders showed us how to build a snow tent and said he would shovel the snow of the boat over the winter. The people up there are very kind.

Mardling in winter

I replaced the engine in the spring and Brian and I sailed from Tromso to Kristiansund. In a bit of a hurry to get back home we did not spend to much time on this part of the journey but all the same it was hundreds of mile of stunning scenery.

Out with the old and in with the new

For the next section of the journey to Alesund My wife Marie, and kids Kyle and Jodie came and we had an idyllic week in the Fjords and small islands on the way. Part of the journey was through an area called Hustadvika it was like a twelve mile long sound of Harris. There are a lot of rocks in Norway!

Jodie takes a watch

The two ladies in my life

Marie and Jodie quite sensibly flew home from Alesund and left Kyle and I to cross to Shetland. One of the last big obstacles was a notorious unsheltered Norwegian headland called the Stad. Rather than head direct to Lerwick we went 80 mile out West before heading South West managing to give it a good wide berth. Soon we were passing the platforms whose names we knew well, Murchison and Ninian slipped past in the night. There was a poor forecast due in 36 hours so after a couple of pints and a chippy in Lerwick we pushed on to Orkney where we left the boat to let the weather settle a bit. 

Kyle and I returned a week later for the final leg home. Our route took us through Eynhallow sound and its roost. The book said to clear the roost two hours either side of slack water, we were 15 minutes late and paid for it. Poor Mardling took the worst hiding of the whole trip and for over an hour our speed dropped to two knots as we were tossed about like the proverbial cork. By the time we were clear the poltergeist had returned and rearranged nearly everything below deck. The top deck had a fine wash and the only mishap was the boat hook lost overboard.  
Twelve hours later Cape Wrath was to port and we turned into the Minch. It was just coming daylight when passed all the Summer isles and entered Annet bay as we always do at this stage of a trip we had a good square up on the boat and opened a couple of beers.
We pulled round the pier and tied up to the pontoon and were greeted by one of the pier staff with the familiar words ''You can't stay there for long lads there is a cruise ship coming in''.

We were home!  

Faradays Bar Vernadsky Research base Antarctica, the most Southerly bar on the planet...who fancies a game of pool :)

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