Kvitøya and 39 bears – good-bye SV Antigua!

maartenkvitNow I have left the SV Antigua, after a last, wonderful voyage. For the first time the Antigua went to Kvitøya, the mystic white island in the far east of Spitsbergen. A dream has come true! And then, we sighted 39 polar bears! 23 of it at one sight. What a trip!

Kvitøya, the white island. 1897 a tragedy took place there, one of these stories that fascinate me so much about the Arctic. The swedish engineer Salomon Andrée had planned to start from Virgohamna on Danskøya and fly over the Pole towards Russia – in a hydrogen balloon. At the time, nobody had ever flown large distances in a balloon, and meteorologists warned Andrée in advance, that the enterprise was doomed to fail. Nevertheless he built up the expedition, together with Knut Frænkel and Nils Strindberg. During the start they loose all three ropes which had to be used for steering. They do not stop and disappear in the North. Some messages, delivered by pidgeons are later found, but nothing more. Balloon and men are gone.

33 years later, in 1930, remains of the expedition are found: The norwegian Bratvaag expedition finds the bodies on Kvitøya. Diaries and photos tell parts of the story: The balloon froze over, became too heavy and crashed on the ice. Attempts to reach Franz Joseph Land or Spitsbergen failed, because of unfavourable drift and ice conditions, and in the end they stranded in October on Kvitøya, the White Island, named after its big icecap. What happened there? Nobody really knows. The first to die was Strindberg, as he was found buried. Why he died, is unclear, and so is the reason for Frænkels and Andrées death. There was enough food, enough equipment for an overwintering, and Fridtjof Nansen and Hjalmar Johansen had prooved only two winters earlier on Franz Joseph Land, that a wintering in this latitude is possible to survive. There are many theories, from trichinosis to lead poisoning, but none of them could be prooved. Why they died, is still a mystery. And there is even a love story in it, as the girlfriend of Strindberg, Anna, waited and waited for her beloved Nils. She married later on, but when she died, she asked, that her heart should be buried next to Nils. And her husband fulfilled her wish. What a story!

And now we finally went there, we reached Kvitøya and even managed to go on land, what is never easy there because of ice, weather, wind and bears. For the first time SV Antigua went there, with Captain Maarten. For crew and guests an unforgettable experience. We could not be long on land, as there were bears close to Kræmerpynten and also to  Andréeneset – but we managed! And this is, what it is all about.

Not enough, we sighted 23 polar bears on one spot. A whale carcass was laying at the beach, which was the reason for this big meeting of bears. We stayed for hours at the beach and observed the bears when feeding, sleeping and playing. Another wonderful encounter!

This nice sighting was followed by a sad one – we discovered a dead bear on Edgeøya. He was laying close to the beach, a young well fed bear. He was laying in a strange position, as if he was standing up and had fallen down. A very unusual position for an animal to die for natural reasons. We called the Sysselmann, who said they wanted to come to get the bear, so maybe we will still hear more about the causes of death.

Very interesting with this encounter was, though, that we could take an unusual close look to the bear, which was apart from smaller wounds in very good conditions. So we got once more a good impression, what powerful animals polar bears are….

And then we left the SV Antigua, Captain Maarten and me. It was wonderful months, to work since April with this special crew. It was wonderful. Better is impossible, thanks to these people.

The plastic project had a small break during the last cruise, but the ELs to come to SV Antigua, Rolf Stange, Michelle van Dijk, Captain Joachim and Maike Wäscher will continue to do it, and I will also try on my new ships.

Because we stay in the Arctic, Maarten on the SV Rembrandt van Rijn in Greenland, and me on the MV Plancius and the SV Noorderlicht in Spitsbergen, before we meet again in Greenland. A long, wonderful season!